India news August 2, 2011

Ojha set to play for Surrey

Pragyan Ojha, the India left-arm spinner, is set to play for Surrey in the County Championship and in the CB40 one-day competition in England. Ojha, who hasn't played much in England, wanted to improve his skills in conditions unfavourable to spin bowling and has been granted permission by the BCCI to play in the first-class and one-day formats.

Ojha is hoping to leave for England in a week's time after completing his visa formalities and could make his debut for Surrey in a CB40 one-dayer against Northamptonshire on August 15.

Ojha has been a regular presence in India squads since making his ODI and Test debuts in 2008 and 2009. He was also part of the squad for the recent tour of West Indies but with Harbhajan Singh being the sole spinner in overseas games, opportunities have been limited. The Nagpur Test against New Zealand in November 2010 was Ojha's last match for India.

"With not much cricket around for me at the moment, I thought it would be best if I could utilise the time by playing some county cricket in England," Ojha told ESPNcricinfo. His previous experience of playing in England is limited to three appearances for India in the World Twenty20 in 2009 and a month with the Slathwaite Cricket Club in the Huddersfield League in Yorkshire in 2007.

Spinners are not having a good time in the ongoing Test series between England and India with Harbhajan, particularly, and Graeme Swann struggling for impact on surfaces and in conditions that have suited the fast bowlers. "It will be a huge challenge for me to play on pitches in England that are not spinner-friendly," Ojha said. "I am really looking forward to gaining experience in those conditions."

Ojha, 24, has shown an ability to get sharp turn and bounce from even slightly-responsive surfaces but has still to progress beyond being a steady performer on truer pitches. Bowling long spells on England tracks that don't deteriorate as much as subcontinent ones do, could help him develop more variations and build his patience.

Ojha joins the list of India left-arm spinners - Bishan Bedi, Dilip Doshi, and Murali Kartik - who have played county cricket. He said the hadn't spoken to them about their experiences but has been taking tips from former India and Hyderabad left-arm spinner Venkatapathy Raju. "I have been in regular touch with Raju and have also been practising with the Hyderabad side [Ojha's team in India domestic cricket]."

Much to his annoyance, Ojha has acquired the reputation of being a restrictive rather than a wicket-taking bowler. A bowling average of 40.40 and a strike-rate of 84.2 - albeit in only 11 Tests - attest to the fact that he has been often called on to perform the holding role with his captain MS Dhoni relying on his impressive control at an age when spinners are supposed to be raw.

"I am much more confident now than I was when I made my Test debut. Now I understand when to attack and when to make the batsmen struggle for runs. You have to continue hitting the right areas; it's not just about bowling stump to stump but about playing with the batsman's mind. A lot of people misunderstand me by saying, 'he bowls only tight lines'.

"It is important how you set your fields, for example, if you have two catching covers, or how you place your mid-off and mid-on. It all depends on you."

With three seasons of international cricket behind him, Ojha said Test cricket had changed vastly from the days when left-arm spinners like Bedi used to "purchase" wickets using generous flight and daring batsmen to go after them. "Batsmen and bowlers used to test each other's patience earlier. Now a lot of batsmen look to win Test matches. I feel if you don't give them easy runs, they will go after you and that is when you have a chance to get them."

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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