Just before the start of the domestic season, Pragyan Ojha, who has played 24 Tests for India, made the boldest decision of his career. After just one season with Hyderabad, Ojha moved to Bihar. Ojha had only returned to Hyderabad last season after two seasons with Bengal, but it turned out to be a disappointing stint, with just four wickets in the three matches he featured in.
While some questioned his decision to move to a team in the plate division of the Ranji Trophy, Ojha disagrees. Returning to Hyderabad had been tumultuous for the left-arm spinner. It all started with Bengal denying him a No Objection Certificate to play for Hyderabad for a considerable period. That meant Ojha couldn’t feature in any local leagues of Hyderabad and had to sit out of competitive cricket for seven months. A shoulder injury made things worse, robbing him of the chance to play in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Ojha had had enough.
“As a player when you’re entering a new season, you don’t want anything else apart from the sport to occupy your mind,” Ojha tells Cricketnext. “All that could have been done in a better way. This wasn’t in anyone’s control. But whatever happened wasn’t right. I didn’t play for seven months, and I couldn’t play the league matches in Hyderabad.
“Bihar approached me before the start of the season and I accepted the challenge. I want to play the game the way it should be played. I have seen enough ups and downs in my career. Last couple of years, I haven’t been enjoying my game. Now I want to play for the very reason I started playing. Thinking about selection and things which are beyond my control will only add to the pressure. They will restrict me mentally."
While Ojha’s returns in four-day cricket were scanty last season, he was Bengal’s highest wicket-taker in the 50-over format with 15 scalps. However, he remembers the season as a bad memory, and is eager to move on.
“It’s a big miss even for an experienced player like me,” he said. “You need to have that match practice coming into the season. This were the reason why I wasn’t in the best frame of mind last season.”
However, the move to Bihar hasn’t been immediately rewarding for the 32-year-old. His new team has already faced a 10-wicket loss to Uttarakhand in the first round and Ojha believes it will be a long and a slow journey before Bihar can be a force. He is eager to share the responsibility to get the team on track.
“More than looking at the result, where we didn’t fare really well, it is important to understand where Bihar and all the other North-East teams stand,” Ojha argues. “While North-East is playing their debut season, it is after 18 years that Bihar is playing the four-day games. So, the practice of playing at this stage, and long matches is not there.
“Such a long break from the domestic circuit means that none of your players have played first class cricket. It’s a big challenge. When more than half of the team is making its debut, you don’t expect them to go out there and win tournaments.
“These players of course know how to play and that’s why they are here. But things like pacing your innings, the mindset to take the rigours of four-day cricket, that is not there. That needs a lot of practice. Even the body is not used to taking so much pressure. All in all, it will take time for these guys to get used to it. And we need to give them time.
“If you see we did fairly well in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But Ranji is a totally different ball game. In shorter formats tour skill isn’t tested to the maximum. In red-ball cricket, a player goes through real grind.”
However, Ojha is undaunted and enjoying the responsibility that comes with being the senior pro in a new set-up.
“We are in the process of rebuilding the team, identifying the players who can do well for us in the Ranji Trophy,” he says. “I, as an experienced player would like to contribute in whatever way I can. I look at it as a responsibility that the federation has handed out to me. I’ll make sure I make the guys understand what this format demands out of them.”