'If VVS defended my bowling, it was a compliment'
As a young left-arm spinner, Pragyan Ojha would look forward to his turn to bowl to VVS Laxman in the nets in Hyderabad. The most enduring image of the two Hyderabadis together is that of Laxman shouting angrily at last man Ojha during the closing moments of India's thrilling chase against Australia in the 2010 Mohali Test. Ojha spoke to ESPNcricinfo about the Mohali incident and on his memories of playing with Laxman.
I would have loved it if he had played this Test series [against New Zealand]. I was thinking that Laxman bhai aur main saath mein Hyderabad mein khelengey [I and Laxman will play together in Hyderabad]. I spoke to him a few days ago and we were discussing about this Test match, and I was asking him about my approach. I never expected he would retire now. I don't know what went through his mind. He had been working so hard on his game, his fitness. I was playing local league games in Hyderabad and around 2-2.30 in the afternoon, he would do sprints on the ground. Our coach Sunil Joshi told me that during his recent hundred in Mysore, he was playing like he used to during his peak, lofting over covers and flicking.
I will now never get an opportunity to play with him and win games for India. If he plays domestic cricket, and I hope he does, I might get a chance to play with him and will definitely not miss it. I feel sad that I will never bat with him again in a Test match for the country.
On the Mohali Test: I have played all my cricket for the same state as him. He has seen me grow up right from childhood. He had that liberty of getting angry with me. I have never seen him getting angry with anyone. He was so passionate, so focused during that Test. He didn't want anything silly happening at that stage and we losing the game. That is a game I will cherish all my life. Coming against Australia, that was really special. After the game ended, he told me that he got a little excited, that he had never wanted to lose it, and asked me not to take it seriously.
On bowling to Laxman: As a kid in age-group cricket, I always used to think of going and bowling to him. He used to practise with the Ranji Trophy side, so we never had the access of bowling to him. I remember when I bowled to him for the first time, I was thinking that if he defends the ball, then I would think I was bowling one of the best lengths, that it would be a great compliment for me. That is the kind of reputation he has. He didn't really defend [that day]. He was playing over covers, he was stepping out and playing those flicks, his trademark shots. It took me two-three months to bowl to an area where he would defend, because he was in his prime. This was when I was playing Under-17 or Under-19, around 2002-03. My Under-19 coaches would tell me you should always think of getting him out. I used to think, let me at least bowl in an area where he defends first, then I can think of getting him out in the nets.
I think if you bowl to him, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in the nets regularly, then you would not have a problem bowling to any batsman in the world because they play you so well. If you make them defend [a ball], then anyone will have a problem playing that ball. That is how I used to get confidence out of every nets session. I never used to miss bowling to these three guys.
On Laxman the mentor: When I played for India U-19 and Ranji Trophy, Laxman bhai told me that right now, there are a lot of expectations from you. Lot of people are talking that you are the next person to play for the country. He was advising me how to go about it, what should be my thinking. He said there are two ways. You can either be too excited about it and mess it up or you can focus on what you have to do and just keep working hard.
Whenever he used to come to the ground, he would make sure he spoke to all the Ranji and junior players. It was difficult for him, he used to travel with the Indian team, he would not have much time to play domestic cricket but he always had an idea who was doing well, who was coming up, he knew everything. He had all the news about Hyderabad cricket.
He was so positive, every time one went and spoke to him if one had a doubt, if something was totally negative, even if there was 1% positivity, he would try and tell you that and make you think about the positive side of whatever had happened. He used to believe that everything had a positive side.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo