Ojha makes a telling statement

In that game, braving a shoulder injury, the left-arm spinner played a key role in India’s series-clinching victory against New Zealand in Nagpur, but in the intervening period, with India playing Tests only overseas – in South Africa, the West Indies and England – Ojha was considered superfluous to the scheme of things.

Obviously disappointed and a little uncertain of which way his career was headed, Ojha went to play for Surrey towards the later part of the English County season with no little help from Anil Kumble, and took 24 wickets at an average of 12.95, helping them gain promotion to the first division.

That stint did wonders for his confidence. “The thing I enjoyed there was that they were treating me like a senior spinner,” Ojha said after his six-wicket haul in the West Indian first innings at the Kotla. “They were looking to me to lead the attack and get lots of wickets. That helped me grow as a bowler.”

His belief restored, Ojha returned to India and promptly picked up nine wickets for Rest of India in the Irani Cup clash against Ranji champions Rajasthan earlier this month, on a reasonably good batting surface. During the game, he was the beneficiary of a basic but vital tip from Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, commentating on the match. Siva stressed the importance of driving through with the body and rotating the hips instead of passively releasing the ball, something Ojha adopted during the game with excellent returns. His elevation as the lead spinner of the national team brought the best out of the man who moved from Orissa to Hyderabad more than a decade back to further his cricketing career as he tied the West Indies down and lured them to their doom on a sluggish surface. Ojha is one wicket shy of 50 scalps in Test cricket, and remarkably, he has played just 12 Tests. It’s perhaps no coincidence that, having played second fiddle to Harbhajan Singh, he brought up his maiden five-for in the first match in which he was the principal spinner, what with R Ashwin making his debut. Responsibility, quite clearly, sits lightly on his broad shoulders.

Ojha had only one wicket to show in the second innings when he was a little off-colour, but Ashwin put things in perspective. “When you have someone like Ojha at the other end, plugging away and bowling maidens, you know the pressure on the batsman is building and that you have a good chance of picking up wickets. Unfortunately, Ojha didn’t get many wickets in the second innings; fortunately for me, I did,” said the man of the match.

Bowling is not just about producing magic deliveries and unplayable spells. It’s as much about partnerships as is batting, and while Ojha and Ashwin might not exhilarate like Sehwag and Gambhir, they have carved their own niche.

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