Indian left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha speaks on his methods and partnership with fellow spinner R Ashwin...
The steady decline of spin in India after the retirement of Anil Kumble has been worrying, and further gloom descended with Harbhajan Singh failing to grab the lead role, eventually losing his place in the team.But the home series against the West Indies and New Zealand indicated the revival of spin courtesy the performances of R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
In the five Tests they have played together so far, Ashwin and Ojha have grabbed 73 wickets, a phenomenal record however you try to temper it down. Yes, Ashwin has grabbed all the attention with his crafty off-spin bowling and feisty batting. But Ojha’s role has been no less significant, often playing the role of a support cast with perfection.
The Hyderabad left-arm spinner spoke to Deccan Herald on his career and partnership
You are the quickest Indian left-arm spinner to reach 50 Test wickets, and also have taken nearly five wickets a match. How do you view the journey so far?
It’s just a beginning, and I would like to think like that. I have played just 16 Tests so far, and at this stage, I am not worried about the number of wickets or records. I need to concentrate on improving my game, and keep myself match-fit. I am sure then all other things will follow.
You have had a stop-start Test career thus far, and how do you deal with it?
I need to look at those things with a positive frame of mind. Of course, selection is not in my hands. When I wasn’t a part of the Indian team, my focus was on playing as many matches as I can. I didn’t want to skip even one domestic match. If you look at it, I played a few league games (in Hyderabad) before the Test series against New Zealand.
My coach has always told me to play as many games as possible because it maintains your edge as a cricketer. Now, I have this Irani Trophy, and a couple of Ranji matches before the series against England, and I want to play in all of them.
Playing in domestic matches helps, especially a spinner. It’s tough for a spinner to bowl to Indian batsmen as they are good against spin, and that can keep you ready for the rigors of international cricket.
Ashwin has a lot of variations, but you keep it simple and straight, choking the batsmen. Is that your preferred mode of operation?
From the early stages, I have identified consistency as my biggest strength. It’s important to know your strengths as a cricketer. I have always tried to keep batsmen under check, and the best way to do it is to keep it simple rather than complicating your game by trying too many things. While playing international cricket, you need to focus on your strengths, and you can correct your weaknesses during the off-season. Otherwise, you’ll be tinkering with your game and letting your team down.
Tell us about bowling with Ashwin…
Like fast bowlers, it’s important for spinners too to operate as a pair. In that sense, we compliment each other very well. On wickets that suit him, Ashwin will be on the offensive, and on wickets that suit me I will be more aggressive. It’s all about understanding the methods and character of your partner. Yes, it does help me a lot that Ashwin is at the other end because we are of the same age, and have played a lot of cricket together.
Many times Ashwin gets wickets earlier than you, and have you ever thought, ‘Oh now I have to take wickets’, putting pressure on you?
I never felt or think that way. It’s important to know your role in the team. Yes, it’s significant to build a partnership – on and off the field – with your bowling partner, but you can’t keep thinking what your partner is going to do or keep watching what your partner is doing. Then you’ll be messing around with your own game and plans.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who picks up wickets because whoever takes wickets Team India benefits from it, and you should be happy if you have performed the job assigned to you.
These days tailenders too need to chip in with the bat, and have you worked on your batting?
I am working on my batting. If you look at the Mohali Test (against Australia in 2010) when I batted with VVS bhai and the Test against the West Indies when I batted with Ashwin….both the times I came to bat at crucial times. At Mohali, we were chasing a tough target, and I needed to stick with VVS bhai, and at Wankhede, Ashwin was nearing his 100, and I needed to give him company. So, it’s crucial for me to chip in with those 20s and 30s, and I am trying to be consistent in that.
Still remember that shout given to you by Laxman at Mohali?
(Laughs) Of course. But then he has every right to get angry at me as he has seen me as a child. It was a Test against Australia, and he didn’t want to loose that Test from that stage after putting all the hard work. So, it was natural for him to get angry when I did a mistake.
The role of Dhoni, the skipper….
Dhoni bhai is just outstanding. He reduces my job by half by setting an ideal field, and talking on how to bowl to different batsmen.
It’s a learning experience to be on the field with him, watching him handle different situations.
You have two big series coming against England and Australia, are you mentally ready for them?
Yes, those two series are quite big for the team and me. But at this point I want to ensure that I will enter those series in the best frame of mind and fitness level. So, as I said earlier, I am concentrating on the Irani Cup and the couple of Ranji matches that I will get to play before the series to ensure that I am in the best shape for those series.