India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 3rd day November 17, 2012

Ojha's subtle route to success

He did not get reams of coverage in the lead-up to the series and does not have a carrom ball or doosra, but Pragyan Ojha has become a vital cog in MS Dhoni's bowling attack

If you had given MS Dhoni six months in a laboratory with all the sophisticated scientists and equipment at his disposal and asked him to come up with a man-made bowler for Test matches in the subcontinent, he would have come out with long, wild hair and Pragyan Ojha walking behind him. Ojha is a Dhoni kind of bowler.

Ojha doesn't bowl mystery balls, he doesn't give batsmen nightmares, he belongs to one of the least threatening species, but he gives Dhoni what he loves: control. Dhoni has the patience of a hawk. He likes nothing better than a bowler who can bowl on the same spot all day. That lets him set a field and build pressure. He can then wait for the batsman to make a mistake. He didn't have any such stock fast bowler in Australia and England, and the difference was conspicuous.

All this makes Ojha sound like some hard-working mule who turns up and keeps pitching on an imaginary kerchief all day long. He is not. Yes, Ojha is a good control bowler on tracks good for batting. Yes, he may not make it turn the other way, he may not announce new deliveries, but Ojha does more than just land it on a length just outside off, especially when the pitch is helping him.

Ojha's arm ball to trap batsmen who are unfamiliar with spin is well appreciated, but two of the more under-rated aspects of his bowling are his use of the crease and different trajectories. As Shane Warne will tell you, landing it in the same area is only half the job; it's when you make it take different routes to that same destination that the batsman is deceived. His pitch map shows a circle with a small radius on a length just outside off, but the beehive has a much bigger representation, with varied bounce and turn. With the pitch getting slower, he might need to do more in the second innings, but this was good enough for the first dig.

Against England on the third day, he used the angle from wide of the stumps to delightful impact. He let the pitch's natural variation confuse the batsmen, bowling from wide of the stumps and drawing different degrees of turn. Every now and then he slipped in the arm ball. The England batsmen contributed to their own demise, but Ojha had to work hard for those wickets: this was not a pitch with balls exploding out of the rough and popping up for easy bat-pad catches.

Ojha's dismissal of Kevin Pietersen would have delighted all old-fashioned left-arm spinners. Ojha should have had Pietersen caught and stumped in his first and second overs of the day, but gradually Pietersen started to settle down and reaching the pitch of the balls. Ojha didn't lose his patience in that 13-over unbroken spell. In the over that he eventually got the wicket, Ojha shortened Pietersen's stride with one that didn't turn. The inside edge on that occasion saved Pietersen, but the doubt created was enough for him to not push all the way forward to the next ball that turned enough to beat the edge.

The reward for that persistence was doubled one ball later when Ian Bell tried to work him off his rhythm with a charge down the wicket. Ojha didn't change where the ball would pitch, and the surface did the rest. That spell of 13-5-26-2 provided Dhoni and India all they wanted. There were no loose balls to provide the batsmen the release, there were no wide balls that you could leave alone and switch off for a while, and there was no monotony the batsmen could get used to.

Ojha still won't give batsmen nightmares. He still won't be the first-choice spinner, although that's an arrangement that might need revisiting. On a less helpful pitch and against less helpful batsmen, Ojha might not have completed his fourth five-wicket haul - in 16 Tests - but even on a flat track he wouldn't have gone at more than three an over. His career economy rate of 2.75 before this match says as much. And he doesn't do it by firing balls into the pads or wide outside off, he does it through his control and subtle changes. For the moment, in the subcontinent, it is good enough for Dhoni.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adam on November 18, 2012, 10:05 GMT

    It was his stint at Surrey CCC that has made the difference. You'd be welcomed back to Smith's Surrey anytime Ojha.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    he just bowled 1 good spell in india and you call it a route to success? then a bad spell in another test match will he become a not so worthy bowler? protect the young cricketers don't make them hero'z overnight. he has a ong way to go ,.....

  • ian on November 17, 2012, 22:11 GMT

    Murali Krishna: Ojha played four matches for Surrey at the very end of the 2011 season when Surrey was pushing for promotion from the County Championship 2nd Division. He was devastating: 150 overs 52 maidens 311 runs 24 wks. Av.12.95. Going for fractionally over 2 rpo, he was as near unplayable as makes no difference. Surrey won all four games & was promoted. I think that he is a better bowler than Ashwin, & like Jeremy Stone, I really enjoy seeing him trotting up, gently swinging that arm & watching the beguiling flight of his deliveries. I can imagine that great SLA bowlers of the past must have been line him, like Colin Blythe killed in World War I & Headley Verity who died of his wounds in WW II. Next to a truly great fast bowler, watching classical slow left arm deliveries gives me more aesthetic pleasure than any other aspect of bowling. Make no mistake, I have watched enough cricket to say Pragyan Ojha is a great Test match bowler. In time, others will agree with me.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 20:31 GMT

    @Murali Krishna, that coz Ojha has nt been playing abroad...He just played 4 tests outside India against bangladesh/SL...Thanks to Mr Srikanth's lobbying for Ashwin ... Dont u just get it??

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 19:28 GMT

    your namesake also took his wickets at home...was a gr8 bowler though ....u dont expect a finger spinner to go to rock hard surfaces in aus and africa and run through batting line ups...i think ojha might have done a better containing job matter where a guy plays..against whichever opposition(england might not play spin well but still guys like cook,pietersen are no dummys) taking 5 wickets is still a heard job..appreciate that@Murali Krishana

  • ANIRUDDHA on November 17, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    Brian Lara said that the more Warne bowled to him the more he used to gain confidence while Murali used to lose confidence if he couldn't get him out early. Google - "Brian Lara on Shane Warne & Muttiah 'Murali' Muralitharan spin bowling"

    I hope our Spin Bowlers develop the former's attitude and help us win more Tests in trying conditions (non responsive pitches or seaming wkts).

  • Akshay on November 17, 2012, 16:56 GMT

    @Murali, most of our great batsmen's runs have come in India too. Should we disregard those achievements as well?!?

  • Alex on November 17, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    I liked his slow slow high loop. Thats one scares batsman.

  • Sandy on November 17, 2012, 14:55 GMT

    Cook was superb today, and Compton looks promising. Hope England can make a fight of it

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 14:30 GMT

    The pitch map says it all, doesn't really need an article on it.... Amazing pitch map. Our very own spin bowling Glen Mcgrath!!

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