By Boria Majumdar
As the Indians step out to play Sri Lanka in the first of five One-day Internationals on July 21, fans would be hoping that they have left a rather disastrous 2011-2012 season behind them. Looking back at the last season, several questions come up over the handling of key players. In this piece I want to focus on Pragyan Ojha.
Ojha, it must be said, is being treated much like Murali Kartik, who was never given a consistent go in international cricket when at his peak. A good performance was hardly ever rewarded and he was in fact dropped after a match-winning performance at the Wankhede Test match in 2004 against the Australians. The result -- we lost Kartik to county cricket and the IPL.
Pragyan’s story is very similar. A left-arm spinner in the true classical mould, he can be an asset for India in the T-20 World Cup and in the 10 Test matches scheduled on home soil in the August 2012-March 2013 period.
Many may have forgotten that just a couple of years earlier Pragyan was the winner of the purple cap in the IPL. Now he is an irregular in the Mumbai Indians side. His India fate is very similar. After a fantastic series against the West Indies at home in November 2011, he wasn’t played in a single Test against Australia Down Under.
Ravichandran Ashwin, despite having conceded a 100-plus runs at Sydney without picking a wicket, was persisted with and Pragyan continued to warm the benches. It was rather sad to see him come to the nets every day and practice and go back to the team hotel knowing he wouldn’t be played in a single match on the tour. To do this for two straight months is difficult on any cricketer and it is only natural that he lost a bit of confidence as a result.
The loss in confidence was evident in the IPL. Pragyan was good in patches and again wasn’t given a consistent run because Mumbai had an abundance of talent in their ranks.
But the India story this time round is different. We need Pragyan to win the series against New Zealand, England and finally Australia at home. We need a quality spin attack against batsmen who play fast bowling really well. On roughed up fourth and fifth day tracks in India, Pragyan, the classical left-arm spinner, will be a handful for any batting line-up. It is imperative the skipper gives him the confidence and assures him of a consistent run if we want to see the best of Pragyan in the 2012-2013 season.
The key question as far as Pragyan is concerned is his temperament. Is he up to the challenge or has he lost the zing that got him into the Indian Test team in the first place? Does he have the hunger to make the Test spot his own or is he happy with the easy cash of the IPL? His manager and friend Atul Srivastava put it nicely, “Pragyan, I can confidently say, is one of the most determined cricketers around. He relishes the challenge and will surely do well this season.”
The one aspect Pragyan will do well to improve a little is his fielding. He is still young and increased effort at practice will surely see him dive a lot more and save a few crucial runs for his team. Being a poor fielder and a poor batter is going against him in the competition with Ashwin, who is a very handy batsman lower down the order. In this day and age of the ‘complete’ cricketer, just one set of skills aren’t always enough to guarantee you a place in the Indian team. He should realise this and spend a few extra hours at the nets to surprise us all in the months to come.
In the ultimate analysis, cricket, which is the most individual of all team sports, is also a battle played out in the mind. Self-belief and the hunger to do well and survive at the top are the key elements that make a good player into a really good player and finally a great player. Virat Kohli has made the transition from good to very good in 2011-2012. I hope Pragyan and a few more Indians do the same in 2012-2013.
By Boria Majumdar