Naman Ojha hopes big scores bring India call-up
It is said that MS Dhoni has revolutionised a generation of aspiring wicketkeepers who now consider batting ability an essential rather than a bonus requirement to be India gloveman. While Dhoni has held down that position for years, he has also had a positive impact on keepers on the domestic circuit, many of whom have made it to the India XI purely as batsmen.
While most of them were tried as specialist batsmen in limited-overs formats, Naman Ojha is knocking on the doors of the national selectors to be treated as a specialist batsman even for Test matches. Riding on a dream run that started with the 2013-14 domestic season and has continued, with a double-hundred in last week's Duleep Trophy semi-final, Ojha is hoping to be picked for India's tour of Australia.
"I have been consistent across all formats, at various positions in the batting order. I hope I can be considered either as a specialist batsman or wicketkeeper-batsman or batsman-wicketkeeper," Ojha told ESPNcricinfo from Delhi ahead of Central Zone's Duleep final against South Zone.
Since the 2013-14 season, Ojha has amassed 1545 runs in 11 first-class matches at an average of 90.88. He has scored one fifty and eight hundreds, including three double-centuries. His last five innings have fetched him 219 not out, 101 not out, 110 (all for India A against Australia A in Brisbane), 217 and 40 (for Central Zone).
The splendid run in Australia earned him a maiden call-up to the India squad for the last two Tests in England as a replacement for back-up keeper Wriddhiman Saha.
Ojha's talent has always been appreciated on the domestic circuit but his temperament has often fallen short. His only international appearances came in 2010 when India had sent a second-rung team to Zimbabwe. He was almost 27 then and many thought he was history as far as international cricket was concerned. But Ojha was determined to break into the India squad again across formats and has given himself the best chance with the consistency he has shown in first-class cricket and the IPL.
Asked about the key for his form, Ojha said it was due to "mental adjustments". "Till two or three years ago, I used to get 70s and 80s and then in an attempt to play to the gallery, I would throw my wicket away. After giving it a lot of thought and discussing it with my mentors and friends, I realised that if I had to make a case for myself with Dhoni being around, I had to score big hundreds. That is what I have been focusing on."
Once he managed to "not manufacture strokes off good balls", the rewards have followed. Ojha hoped to continue his run in the Duleep final against formidable South Zone. "Ever since I have started thinking one ball at a time, I have been successful. I just hope to continue in the same vein in the final and hope for Central Zone winning the title and my name being considered for the tour to Australia."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo