March 13, 2013

Why's Ojha not playing against Australia?

There may be plenty of left-hand batsmen in the opposition, but it still doesn't make sense to leave your best bowler out of the side
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What are a bowler's chances of selection if he boasts five-wicket hauls in consecutive Test matches on his way to a total of 20 wickets in a series? If he's fit, his name should be the first on the team sheet for the next series, right? Wrong.

In India this year, such a bowler, quite inexplicably, failed to find a place in the playing XI for the two Test matches following the series in which he took all those wickets.

The conditions must have changed drastically? No, for not only were the next two Test matches played in the same country but on similar pitches. While other spinners have done most of the bowling in the two matches in question, this spinner, the top performer from the last series, has sat on the sidelines, waiting for his next chance. As some of the other bowlers have run in over after over, looking pale and listless, the reasons for benching this man have grown ever more baffling.

The player thus sidelined is Pragyan Ojha of course. When most of his team members failed miserably against England, he held his own, giving India a fighting chance. To add insult to injury, not only did most of the players who fell short in that series retain their spots in the squad, they also walked into the playing XI ahead of Ojha. Even players who were dropped in the middle of that series for their poor showing have now found favour ahead of him.

Since cricket is a team game and players ought to be sacrificed at the altar of the team cause when necessary, let us try to look objectively at the likely reasons for his omission.

The Australian batting line-up currently touring India has far too many left-handers, and so India should be playing spinners who take the ball away from them. This perhaps is why Harbhajan Singh has been called back in spite of not having set the world on fire in domestic cricket after he was dropped following the second Test match against England in Mumbai. While this theory sounds good on paper, it doesn't hold much water in practice. And if it was to be applied uniformly, why wasn't Ashwin rested during the series against England? They didn't have too many left-handers. And would it not have made sense to play a legspinner, Amit Mishra, against a team that has traditionally struggled against legspinners?

Horses for courses is all very well but I believe it's imperative to play your best bowlers at all times. Ojha and Ashwin were India's best spinners coming into the England series, which was why it was wise to continue with them. Good bowlers are good bowlers regardless of the kind of batsmen in the opposition.

One doesn't hear of teams packed with left-handers to defy the opponents' legspinners or left-arm spinners. Unfortunately the same models of judgement aren't employed when picking bowlers

Moreover, left-armers and legspinners can make the most of the rough against left-hand batsmen, for the ball comes into the batsman after pitching in the rough. If the ball is going away, batsmen can safely leave or pad it away. But that's a luxury you can't afford when the ball is coming back into your body: padding becomes a difficult proposition and offering a shot could lead to a bat-pad opportunity on the leg side. Shane Warne, by his own admission, relished bowling to left-handers a lot more than he did to right-handers on wilting pitches.

If the Indian team was looking for someone who could bat at No. 6 and also bowl a bit of spin, there isn't a better man than Ravindra Jadeja in the country. He has scored a few triple-hundreds in first-class cricket, and his fast and accurate left-arm spin can be very effective on subcontinental pitches. But it so happens that he isn't batting at No. 6, for MS Dhoni has made that spot his own, at least for now. If the plan was to play two offies, Ashwin and Harbhajan, and have a reasonably good batsman at No. 7, Ashwin could have done that job. He was third on India's batting averages list in Australia, and second in the home series against England. He has the right technique and the temperament to be an allrounder who bats at seven or eight. Also, Harbhajan Singh, who has Test hundreds, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has a decent first-class batting record, have added enough lower-order teeth to the batting order. So your best bowler's batting ability, or lack of it, should not have been a criterion for his selection in the XI.

In professional cricket, teams hardly ever change their batsmen to counter a certain kind of bowling attack from the opposition. One doesn't hear of teams packed with left-handers to defy the opponents' legspinners or left-arm spinners. That would make for a defensive mindset and betray your lack of security in your skills. Unfortunately the same models of judgement aren't employed when picking bowlers.

In an ideal world, Ojha's would have been the first name on the team sheet. The toss-up was always between the other three spinners. Unfortunately that's not how it played out.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Temuzin on March 16, 2013, 16:30 GMT

    Posted by Nish_US on (March 15, 2013, 3:29 GMT) I was really expecting ojha to be given a chance here.. well Dhoni let his friends enjoy the spinning tracks.. and gets Ojha on a pacer's wicket... will be interesting to see when he bowls him.... Ojha - if you really got it.. its time to show it now..

    Nish Ojha got his chance and was outshone by even Jadeja on this pitch. Look at the wickets Jadeja got , he got warner and clarke agaist to Ojha's? Lets see what can Ojha do in second innings. And if he is again outshone by Jadeja I will expect you stop crowing about any body not selected by Dhoni.

  • Temuzin on March 16, 2013, 16:27 GMT

    Akash, Do you know now why Ojha was not playing. The guy was outshone by even jadeja. look at their score and you will know why he was not playing.

  • wolf777 on March 15, 2013, 23:20 GMT

    Ravidra Jadeja as an allrounder provides a balance to the team. I don't understand what difference does it make if bats no 6 or 7?

  • Nish_US on March 15, 2013, 3:29 GMT

    I was really expecting ojha to be given a chance here.. well Dhoni let his friends enjoy the spinning tracks.. and gets Ojha on a pacer's wicket... will be interesting to see when he bowls him....

    Ojha - if you really got it.. its time to show it now..

  • Nish_US on March 15, 2013, 0:24 GMT

    @ LoveTeamIndia

    Totally agree with you. This series win by 4-0 means nothing.... there is no ponting or hussey and no spinners... no one has played a handful of tests other than the captain.. this AUS team have to really fight hard to even draw a series with bangladesh -- ofcorse in bangladesh....

    Not undermining their effort or committment... AUS is just in the process of rebuilding..and many greats have retired...

    Let Dhoni win a series outside of India with his friends and then I WILL SHUT MY MOUTH FOREVER

  • Nish_US on March 15, 2013, 0:21 GMT

    @cricketsunami

    if Ojha had n't played against ENG, who would take those 20 wickets...the score line would have read the same we got when we toured ENG

  • Nish_US on March 15, 2013, 0:17 GMT

    @gandhala

    The only things the captain sees is his friends... how else would ANYONE explain people like Rohit and Jadeja getting into the team, time after time, failure after failure.. at the same time people like Tiwary, Rahane, Ojha and Irfran, kept out of the team even when they perform

  • Al_Bundy1 on March 14, 2013, 21:47 GMT

    Agree with @Anil Kumar - Ojha is not picked at the expense of Jadeja, who plays for Chennai Indians and belongs to Saurashtra. It looks like Saurashtra lobby is running things in BCCI these days. Ojha was the best test bowler in India, for two series in a row and Jadeja would never qualify as a test player, same as Yuvraj. Jaddu and Yuvi are good players for ODI and T20, not Tests.

  • Al_Bundy1 on March 14, 2013, 21:39 GMT

    Agree with @PG65 - It really baffles me as to how India picks its test team. We revel in picking non performers who have big reputations to protect, Sehwag & Bhajji being cases in point.

    You can add Ishant Sharma and Tendulkar to that list, Ishant being the biggest non-performer of all time. That bloke simply doesn't have the brains to be a fast bowler. It's not just about bowling fast, it's also about how to outfox the batsmen. Bhuvi and Shami seem to have that, Ishant doesn't.

  • Al_Bundy1 on March 14, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    In a test match, you have to play your best specialists. Ojha is no Bedi, but he is still the best left arm spinner in India. Rasool is the best off spinner in the country right now. Bhajji was not even amongst the top 50 bowlers in 2012 Ranji Trophy. I am happy that Ashwin did well, but until he performs against good players of spin, like the Sri Lankans, we won't know for sure.