The continuing success story of Cheteshwar Pujara and the coming of age of Pragyan Ojha as a match winner were the most encouraging factors behind India’s comprehensive nine-wicket victory over England at Ahmedabad.
Indeed one could not believe that this was the same Ojha who had for most part of his career been at most a steady bowler, capable of restricting runs but not taking too many wickets. The transition from a defensive trundler to an attacking bowler has not come about overnight.
There has obviously been a lot of thinking and planning along the way. He has worked hard on his bowling and the results are there for all to see. Ojha has proved that there is no substitute for hard and practice, that toiling and sweating it out can yield results.
The Ojha that one saw at Ahmedabad gave the batsmen no respite. He tied them up in knots through clever variations of pace and flight and along the way making the ball always do something. Unlike Ravichandran Ashwin who tries too many things all at once, Ojha kept things simple, maintaining an impeccable line and length and letting the surface do the rest.
He tested the batsmen’s patience with his accuracy and had them guessing as to where the ball would pitch and whether it would go straight through or turn. The best match figures of his Test career (nine for 165) came through hard work and perseverance. He is now a thinking bowler capable of getting the better of the best of batsmen in a battle of wits.
He is also now a bowler on whom his captain can depend not only on keeping down the runs but also taking wickets. It was Ojha who gave the crucial breakthroughs on the final morning just as Matt Prior and Alastair Cook were proving to be unshakable.
First he held one back for Prior to give him a return catch and then bowled the England captain with a beauty that pitched on an inconvenient length and turned just enough to disturb the stumps. To bowl Cook who had showed intense concentration for more than nine hours and never seemed like getting out was the icing on the cake and the crowning glory of an outstanding performance.
Ojha and Ashwin are India’s newest spin twins but the left arm spinner seemed to be coming off second best even as the off spinner was deservedly cornering all the glory. Now Ojha has stolen a march over Ashwin and one is sure it will not be the last time he does so. One can only see Ojha go from strength to strength for his confidence level must be at an all time high.
From a slow, even hesitant start he has now blossomed out into a match winner and the great Indian spin tradition has unearthed its latest hero. A tally of 84 wickets from 17 Tests is quite remarkable though one is sure Ojha will not be happy with the average – just over 30 apiece – and will do his best to improve on that.
As for Pujara, the success story and the adulations never seem to stop. He was always the front runner for the pivotal No 3 slot following the retirement of Rahul Dravid but even his most fervent backers would not have bargained for his lofty achievements in such a short time. An average of 71 after six Tests allied to a big century and an unbeaten double century are eye catching figures.
But even more eye catching is his approach to batting. Pujara is an ideal blend of talent, technique and temperament. He is equally adept at playing pace or spin and he can alter his batting to the needs of his team. He has an insatiable appetite for runs, a hunger for big scores and is a big innings player who can bat for hours and hours if needed – the hallmark of a good Test player.
More than anything else his unflappable temperament will carry him far. He is not overawed by the bowler or the opposition, is methodical in his approach and simply put, he plays each ball on its merit. He is a very correct batsman with sterling defence and a large repertoire of strokes. So while his batting is based on a superb defensive technique he is also a natural stroke playing batsman.
He uncannily finds the gaps in the field through a blend of timing, technique and placement. He is equally fluent on both sides of the wicket as repeated wagon wheels of his innings have underlined. His batting against spin bowling is an object lesson in how to combat the turning ball on a responsive surface. Every time the ball does something awkward he has the angle of deviation covered, so sure is his technique.
To follow a legend like Rahul Dravid can be an unenviable task and while the comparisons can wait there is little doubt that the Indian team has found a most worthy successor to the great man. Former stars have thrown encomiums at him like confetti at a wedding but Pujara, his feet firmly planted on mother earth, is unlikely to let all the heady praise go to his head. One can already see him as India’s No 3 for an extended period. He has made a jump of 35 places in the latest ICC rankings and one is sure the upward climb will continue.