Fast climb, faster slide

Fast climb, faster slide

interview

Cricket and dirty diapers, it seems, have a lot more in common than conceived. Pragyan Ojha’s lucidity in explaining this rather obscure analogy is a good sign of things to come. After all, the former Test cricketer intends to dabble in commentary.

Having called curtains on his career last week, Ojha, all of 33, wants to get behind a mic, and Board permitting, play league cricket abroad eventually. But his focus now is his son - Yohaan. Six months have passed since Junior’s arrival and Ojha wants to spend time coddling him, and exercising the patience cricket has taught him.

“I finally have all the time in the world for my family,” he says. “Being a dad is the best thing. It’s a full-time job and it requires more patience, sometimes, than it does to play Test cricket, but Test cricket does help. It’s all about the little things.” 

“Pay attention to nuances and Test matches can be won…. and diapers can be changed,” he laughs, evidently amused by his delivery. 

That, though, is the only time he is jovial during the course of this interaction. Ojha’s career wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. His mood turns sombre when reminded, but he maintains the clarity of thought and speech, inflections are consistent but intonations reveal unresolved torrents of yore.

“I have no regrets and I feel like I did everything I could, but it still feels strange,” he says.  

Having made his Test debut in 2009, the left-arm spinner became a sensation over a five-year period, becoming one of the fastest Indians to 100 Test wickets. He was one half of the crack duo which included R Ashwin. Grand things were expected from the man from Hyderabad. 

Instead, he finished his Test career with 113 Test wickets from 24 Tests, last of which was Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test against the West Indies in 2013. He picked up ten wickets in that game - a fifer in each innings. 

He never wore the Indian whites again. 

Ignored by selectors for possibly straightening his elbow beyond permissible degrees for close to a year, Ojha was officially banned from bowling in competitive cricket in 2014. Ojha, who had been asked by former Test umpire AV Jayaprakash to undertake corrective measures earlier, didn’t have a choice now. He landed up at the SRMC in Chennai for a rehabilitation process.  

Ojha explains the nature of his ‘condition’: “It was a technical glitch. Experts at SRM told me that I was running in too diagonal, and because of that, I was creating an angle at my delivery stride. I was facing short third man or point instead of facing the batsman because I had to counter that unusual angle, I would have to bend my arm. But there was no impact at all. After that happened, I came back and I bowled as well as I had before. I was back in 23 days because it was a minor correction.” 

Never once does he deny that he didn’t bowl with a bent arm, beyond the 15 degrees permitted, but he maintains that he should have been treated with dignity. Which, in retrospect, is a fair ask.  

“Chucking should be treated as an injury and not as a criminal offence. Even people you’re close to start looking at you suspiciously because you’re called for chucking. Team-mates talk about it behind your back and the core group doesn’t want to work with you,” he paints a picture of the time.   

“It’s not a conducive culture for people who make mistakes. It really hampers you mentally and in many cases, it causes depression in people because it’s their livelihood at the end of the day. Where do they go if they can’t do what they’ve spent their entire lives doing? People need to show maturity and understanding of the situation.” 

He continues: “Even though I was back playing first-class cricket soon, people weren’t kind to me and that made it hard. It’s tough when people you’ve known turn their back on you and start questioning you. If I had known I was doing something wrong, I would have fixed it immediately. It’s not a crime for crying out loud. And because I was doing it unintentionally is why I underwent a rehabilitation process and corrected it so easily. That’s how I made my comeback.”

While Ojha maintains that he was as effective in his comeback, his numbers don’t reflect the same efficiency and the fact that he never returned for the national side reiterates this point. His remodelled action didn’t allow him to get as much drift, and with his pivot affected, he didn’t get as much turn either. He had lost the two aspects of his bowling which made him relevant on the international stage.   

“You should realise that there’s a long queue to get into the Indian team. Once you are behind, no matter how well you have done, it’s tough to get back. Unless you have some fortune going your way, you are most likely not going to make it back,” he says matter-of-factly.  

“By the time I made my comeback and showed that my remodelled action was good, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were already in the side. They formed a great duo. That’s the reality of it. I was left out because they were good. It’s as simple as that. We’ll never know what would have happened if I wasn’t called because it happened. Honestly, I am just glad that I got to live my dream.”

Speaking of realised dreams, Ojha couldn’t help but think back on the day he partook in one of the most memorable partnerships with VVS Laxman to hand India a win over Australia in Mohali in 2010. The moment will forever be remembered for Laxman shouting expletives at Ojha for nearly running himself out when India were six runs from winning series opener.  

“That is one of the fondest memories of my life. I’d rather not get into what he said. We only need to understand why he said it (laughs). He wanted us to win more than anything. He is a true competitor. He may look docile but he is every bit as fierce as some of the more obviously aggressive people these days,” he offers. 

“The Test was on the line and he wanted to win it badly. Ishant and him had worked so hard to get the team so close and one silly error from my end nearly cost the team, and that’s why he exploded. Also, if it was anyone else at the other end, he probably wouldn’t have said anything. He and I go back a long way and he has that equation with me. It’s a certain familiarity, and plenty of pressure (laughs).”

…. A child is heard bawling in the distance. “Time for my second innings,” he chortles before excusing himself. Ojha knows his second essay won’t be any less stressful, but he is certain, it’ll be more satisfying. Left-arm over and out. 

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