Amre's guidance holds Naman Ojha in good stead
Over the last fortnight, Naman Ojha has exemplified the skill of extending one's batting form across seasons. Touring with the India A side in Australia, Ojha hit three successive hundreds and finished the four-day leg of the tour with 430 runs in three innings. The results were Ojha's reward for nearly two years of work done with batting coach Pravin Amre.
After a disappointing series against New Zealand A in 2012, where he scored 70 runs in four innings. Narendra Hirwani, the former India legspinner and national selector, came up with a suggestion. Hirwani, who has known Ojha since the latter's first-class debut in 2000-01, asked the wicketkeeper-batsman to approach batting coach Pravin Amre for guidance.
Amre, who had coached Ojha's corporate team, Air India, agreed and the duo have been working closely at the Air India facility in Mumbai. "We realised there was not much wrong with his technique. In fact, his extraordinary bat speed is his biggest strength, so there was no point in tinkering with it," Amre told ESPNcricinfo. "Instead, we realised it was more of a mental problem for him when it came to batting long. We then decided to focus more on building an innings."
The rewards followed quickly for Ojha, known as an underachiever in first-class cricket, despite India caps in the shorter formats. The 2013-14 Ranji season turned out to be his best in domestic cricket. Between his debut in 2000-01 and 2012-13, Ojha had scored nine first-class centuries. In 2013-14, he scored four hundreds and finished as the eighth-highest run-getter in Ranji Trophy, even as his team, Madhya Pradesh, had one of their worst seasons in the last decade.
Ojha carried that form into Australia, too. His knocks of 219 not out, 101 not out and 110 were scored while batting at No. 7 for India A and each one came with the team in a precarious position. Moreover, he scored the centuries after long spells keeping wicket, thus underlining his fitness.
In the first innings of the first unofficial Test, Ojha came in to bat with India A at 191 for 5. With the aid of the tail, he ensured the score reached 475 for 9 before the innings was declared. Then, he took three catches, including a diving take down the leg side, while keeping for more than 140 overs. In their second innings, India A slumped to 86 for 5 and there was a remote possibility of a loss to Australia A. Ojha was at it again, pulling the team to safety with Ambati Rayudu.
In the second four-day game, Ojha had to keep wicket for almost a day and a half before taking guard with India A at 199 for 5 in reply to Australia A's 423. He completed a hat-trick of centuries and took the team close to Australia's total before Umesh Yadav's blitzkrieg ensured a sizeable lead.
"Even before we started preparing for the tour to Australia, we knew he had to make this opportunity count. He had realised that he may not get many opportunities to prove himself in the longer form, so he took it as his last chance," Amre said. "I am glad he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. To score three centuries, that too after keeping wickets for so long, is just incredible. It's also a compliment to his fitness levels."
Hirwani, who has been a guiding force for Ojha, first as a senior team-mate and then as a selector and coach, called the wicketkeeper-batsman a late-bloomer. "His talent is unquestionable," Hirwani said. "What was perhaps lacking was temperament and patience. I thought Amre would be the best man to help him out in such a case and I am delighted that it has worked.
"There are players who realise what their game is all about at a tender age and there are some who take time to know themselves. It's a question of maturity and I think Naman has matured now - both as an individual and as a cricketer. This is his right age. I hope he continues to excel and hopefully bring in richer laurels for himself, MP cricket and possibly the Indian team."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo