Pragyan Ojha comes around the wicket, flights the ball at a slower pace than he usually does, gets it to subtly dip and flummoxes Kieran Powell, who was until then batting stoically on 48. Ojha repeats this process against three other batsmen, all of who are equally clueless against his left-arm spin on one of the most spinner-friendly surfaces in the sub-continent. He has them trapped before the wicket and caught behind. West Indies shut shop for 182 in the first innings.
Ojha unfurls his repertoire further in the second innings. This time the West Indian batsmen are trapped before the wicket, caught behind, caught-and-bowled, and finally stumped. They fold for 187, conceding victory to India by an innings. The Test was Sachin Tendulkar’s last, and what a fitting swan song it turned out to be.
Ojha was one of the chief architects behind this splendid adieu, as was evidenced when Tendulkar pats him on the back after his spell, as if to express gratitude for making it possible. Ojha dedicates his Man of the Match award to Tendulkar and walks off from the arena content with his present and aspirations for the future. Nobody could have blamed him for believing he was now an integral part of India’s Test squad, and one half of the famed Spin Twins.
Ojha has bowled five such spells in international matches and several more in the domestic circuit. When India played their next series at home, Ojha was overlooked.
There’s an incident about Ojha that was published by ESPN Cricinfo. He had hit a rough patch when representing the Hyderabad Under-17 team. Upon reaching the ground one early morning to face Andhra Pradesh, he was duly asked by his coach if he had not read the newspaper. The coach then proceeded to tell him that he was dropped, and that since he had travelled far to get to the ground, he could stay back and have food. “That really hurt me,” Ojha told the website.
What was to follow in the later stages of his career would put the ‘Under-17 snub’ in perspective. Since his high against the West Indies at Mumbai, Ojha has been let go by the national side, struggled to perform in the lower rung of the Ranji Trophy while representing Hyderabad, and was then banned from bowling after his action was found to be illegal. Ojha describes the phase as his life’s toughest. It makes you wonder how much of this was his own doing.
Although his action was later cleared after a corrective course by the facility that found him guilty in the first place, there’s little doubt that the process further dented Ojha’s morale to an extent that once he returned, wickets were the last thing on his mind. He just wanted to play. He yearned for an opportunity on a stage where he could showcase the skills that propelled him to limelight initially.
Then came Bengal, thanks to Sourav Ganguly, who is an ardent fan of Ojha and who is often baffled at the latter’s exclusion despite the varieties in his bowling. Sourav placed his trust in Ojha and Ojha responded by sending down a plethora of overs with decent rewards. Even today, Ojha is in the top flight of spinners in India’s artillery.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has breathed new life into players who were once considered way past their prime. Examples, ranging from Lakshmipathy Balaji to Ashish Nehra, are plenty. The upcoming edition of the IPL could have been Ojha’s gateway to the Indian team. And considering how lesser-known, uncapped Indian players are often bought by the franchises for whopping sums of money, Ojha’s purchase was a given. But what transpired in the hall where the tycoons — alongside their advisors — sat, confused many. New Zealand cricketer Jimmy Neesham’s tweet best summed up the IPL auctions. (By the way, if there was a cricketing award for Best Twitter Account, Jimmy Neesham would win year after year.)
Ojha went unsold. While a plausible explanation can be deduced, albeit with some difficulty, to some exclusions, Ojha’s cannot.
Here’s a bowler who has proved time and again that if you place in him your trust, he will spin a win. Yet, the constant snub has pushed him farther from the podium where he belongs, owing largely to the short-sightedness of a few. While you cannot rule out a comeback (be it in the IPL — for you never know when the powers that be decide to install a clause that will allow unsold players to be brought back to the auction table — or in the national side), it leaves you wondering how much of an impact this has had on Ojha. Can he afford to be confident even if he gets to the peak of his bowling prowess? Perhaps not. And he is not primarily to blame for it.