Ojha claimed his 34th victim of the Ranji Season and his 399th first-class wicket on the first day of the quarter-final against Madhya Pradesh at CCI. In a chat with Indian Express, the Bengal left-arm spinner who was barred in December 2014, and returned with a new action talks about the difficult times, the taunts about his full-sleeved bowling days and how he coped with being called a chucker.
It must have been tough times . Your action was dodgy and you were branded as a chucker. How were you coping?
Everyone says chucking, chucking. They used to look at me during my rehab and go, “Dekho chucking karta tha. Let’s see what he does now.” You feel like you’re a criminal but end of the day you should treat it like overcoming an injury. I don’t know about others but for me the experts said it was not intentional. They said that angle is wrong for you. It’s like some guys pick up a shoulder injury because of a wrong throwing technique. So they change that technique. Like that, even if you go wider, when you are running straight your body is going straight, so there can be no wrong movement.
After seeing my action through the biometrics, they said that because of my angle (going diagonally, a natural one for an orthodox left-arm spinner), at times on pitches where you are not getting much drift, I would go wider than usual to create that angle. As a result, my body was facing towards the point region and my hand was bowling to the batsman. My hand was coming behind the head almost and the action went wrong. It was not like the degree was much more than what’s allowed, very minimal like 18-19 degrees. That’s also the reason I came back into cricket within 20-25 days. If it was intentional then it would have been very difficult for me to rotate the arm and come back with the same penetration. So when I came straighter, I literally cut down that angle so that my body is going totally towards the batsman. So there’s nothing at all. From 18 degrees, now it is 3 or 4 degrees, which is very normal. Any finger-spinner will have that little bit of degree to turn the ball.
You have played so much for India, nobody really noticed where the action was going wrong?
If someone had noticed it, then I would have done something about it.
Whenever people would talk about Pragyan Ojha there was always talk about the size of your sleeves.
When you wear long sleeves, the confidence levels are low. Aapko pata nahi hota ki kya ho raha hai. (You don’t know what’s happening) If I had paid notice to it and done something about it then it would have been like normal life. Because the mind-set becomes, kya hoga mere saath, kyun hoga, kaisa hoga. (what will happen to me, why, when) Everyone knows that it started after Champions League, ki Ojha kyun full sleeves pehenta hai?(why does Ojha wear full sleeves?). I didn’t know what I should be doing. As a cricketer, you get scared. Your career is at stake. I feel like if I had worked on that issue earlier, if someone had told me how it is and what I could have done, maybe I could have worked on it before I lost my place in the side.
Did you never feel like I should just bowl with short sleeves or was there a worry?
I started bowling with short sleeves in the Duleep Trophy two years ago. When the issue started going out of control, I started wearing half-sleeves, I started thinking Ki chalo half-sleeve pehenke dekhte hai. I don’t think I had any problem with that. I don’t wear full-sleeves anymore.
How unsettling was it to be made to change a bowling action that you’ve used from junior cricket?
It was like a shock for me. But somehow I really pulled myself up. The biggest credit goes to my family and my close friends, especially cricketers from Hyderabad who were really monitoring my every move when I was bowling or doing any activity that was related to my new action. Because the old action I had done it so many times, and I have developed certain wrong habits, to change it mentally, is very difficult. So it was like starting from under-13 days, going from one step to the next.
I would just stand and release the ball first from the spot to get the action going then take a couple of steps of run-up before finally completing the whole action. The most important thing is that I have not lost that penetration off the wicket. I’m still getting that turn and bounce off the wicket.
Did it affect your drift in anyway?
Kuch nahin. See this season I got 34 wickets, I got Wasim bhai (Jaffer) bowled when he missed the line, it turned, bounced and he was clean-bowled. Getting a batsman of that stature in that manner was very satisfying for me.
How did your family deal with this?
They were obviously upset that how could this happen to you. It was just a small rectification but you never did it. You didn’t know it. They were upset I was not playing cricket. They were more supportive. They never spoke to me about cricket. They knew exactly what I was going through. They never let me go down. Suddenly you are not bowling. Everyone else is playing cricket, and you are sitting at home. You feel like cricket is over. The biggest role was played by Laxman bhai. He was in constant touch and kept talking to me, saying don’t ever let negative thoughts get to you. Just focus and keep bowling. That’s what helped me a lot. It’s like coming back from an injury. You don’t know what will happen next. Will you bowl the same way? Initially the confusion is there. Luckily I haven’t lost those original strengths of mine.
In your case it wasn’t like you lost form, considering you were the man of the match in your last Test?
Aap yaad mat dilao na (laughs). Obviously just leave everything, experience and you have played for country, all that aside. At the end of the day you are human. If you sit down and you know that because of this small mistake, all this has happened to me. But after picking man of the match, and then suddenly you are nowhere, sometimes it hurts but that’s how life is.
What is your immediate plan?
See whether you like it or not, the IPL is the premier tournament in India. If you are playing in that, you are in the spotlight. People are seeing how you are bowling. It’s not about just T20. For all Indian players, it’s a platform where you show where you stand. Obviously my focus is on that. More than that, I am focusing on this quarterfinal, then hopefully semis and final for Bengal. These are big games for those like us trying to make a comeback.
Realistically your Indian dream. There’s Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra as third-spinner. India are playing 13 Tests at home this year.
The biggest example for me would be Mishra. He was performing in domestic cricket then suddenly he got his chances. That’s how I think I should be looking at it. When you are not playing for the country, at least you are performing consistently in domestic cricket. The way this season has gone, if I can have another one like this then I will be knocking at the doors.
As the season has gone on, have others, say your peers, come and complimented you on your action?
They were very happy with how I was bowling. Subramaniam Badrinath in fact came and told me that your bowling’s the same. It has not changed at all. That gives me more confidence.
Any of the present Indian players in touch with you?
Most of them. Rohit (Sharma) is in touch. Ajju (Ajinkya Rahane) is in touch. They keep messaging me whenever I take wickets.
The fact that you have come back from such a thing, have you reached a point where the India fixation isn’t the be all and end all?
It’s not like India nahi khel raha hoon, nahi khel raha hoon. But it’s there inside that I want to play. I know I have played there and performed there. I know my calibre, to be frank. I am very confident that if I get a chance I will do well. If as an individual I don’t know where I stand, then I am in the wrong place.
Day one: One century, one five-for
From dustbowls that had been laid out in group league games, to fresh pitches on neutral venues for knockouts; there was a refreshing change as Ranji Trophy quarterfinals began on Wednesday. Akhil Herwadkar was the lone centurion on Day One, while Jaydev Unadkat bagged a five-for…
Unadkat rattles Vidarbha
In Vizianagaram: Saurashtra won the toss on a lively pitch and decided to field first. Unadkat removed Jitesh Sharma in the second ball of the match and then his new ball partner Hardik Rathod accounted for Faiz Fazal and G Satish. Vidarbha couldn’t recover. Veteran Wasim Jaffer, at No. 5, was going well. But once Deepak Punia dismissed him, it became an easy ride for Saurashtra. Unadkat ripped through the tail and Vidarbha for 151. At stumps, Saurashtra were 70/1 with Cheteshwar Pujara batting on 45.
Brief scores: Vidarbha 151 all out in 50.4 overs (W Jaffer 41; J Unadkat 5/70) vs Saurashtra 70/1 in 30 overs (C Pujara 45*)
Punjab in command
In Valsad: Medium pacers Siddarth Kaul and Barinder Sran combined well to put Punjab in the driver’s seat as they chose to bowl first against Assam in Valsad on Wednesday. Assam lost wickets at regular intervals and except J Syed Mohammad no one put up a fight. The left-hander reached an unbeaten half-century at the fag end of the day. Kaul bagged four wickets, while Sran took a couple.
Brief scores: Assam 223/8 in 88 overs (J Syed Mohammad 50*; S Kaul 4/81) vs Punjab
MP slow but steady
In Mumbai: Madhya Pradesh reached a healthy 254/4 on Day One after being sent in by Bengal at Brabourne Stadium. Aditya Shrivastava and Naman Ojha steadied the ship with a 102-run partnership for the third wicket after Jalaj Saxena and Rajat Patidar departed early. Skipper Devendra Bundela and Harpreet Singh have been building on it with an unbroken 92-run stand for the fifth wicket. Harpreet scored a stroke-filled half century. For Bengal, Veer Pratap Singh bagged two scalps.
Brief scores: Madhya Pradesh 254/4 in 87 overs (A Shrivastava 65, N Ojha 64, H Singh 51*; VP Singh 2/55) vs Bengal
Herwadkar shines bright
In Mysore: Akhil Herwadkar and Suryakumar Yadav forged a 136-run partnership for the third wicket to help Mumbai take control of the proceedings after they won the toss and decided to bat against Jharkhand. Herwadkar reached three figures but Yadav was out on 75. Shreyas Iyer made a sparkling 45 off 53 balls. But the young Mumbai batsman would be disappointed not to capitalise on his confident start.
Brief scores: Mumbai 303/6 in 90 overs (A Herwadkar 107, S Yadav 75; J Singh 2/57) vs Jharkhand