'Mentally and physically in good space' - Pragyan Ojha
Pragyan Ojha has revealed that he went "literally blank" when he was banned last December for chucking, but has come through the difficult period with a successfully remodeled action and is looking forward to the new season.
"I was literally blank for a couple of days," Ojha told ESPNcricinfo. "I really could not understand what to do and how to go about it."
Ojha credited the strong support system he had for helping him bounce back.
"I felt this should not end like this," he said. "I was very emotional about what happened but I was lucky to have great support and encouragement from my family and [VVS] Laxman bhai. They connected to me everyday, they took my feedback, and also gave their feedback. The passion towards playing for the country pushed me."
Having confirmed his switch from Hyderabad to Bengal in a bid to compete in the top tier of the Ranji Trophy, Ojha is looking forward to winning games for his new team.
"Mentally and physically I am in a good space now," Ojha told ESPNcricinfo. "My aim is to take wickets, do well for the Bengal side, and win games for them."
Ojha became the third-fastest Indian to 100 Test wickets in March 2013 and eight months later went on to claim match figures of 10 for 89 in Sachin Tendulkar's farewell Test. Soon after, however, his fortunes slid drastically.
First, he was left out of India's squads for the tours to New Zealand and England. Then, in December 2014, he was banned from bowling in competitive cricket, and was subsequently withdrawn from the Hyderabad squad.
Ojha reported to the ICC-accredited testing facility at the Sri Ramachandra Medical College [SRMC] in Chennai, where former Tamil Nadu spinners D Vasu and M Venkataramana helped him correct his action. Vasu identified unwanted body movement that was breaking his 'kinetic chain', thereby affecting his action.
"The training was pretty serious and intense," Vasu said. "We focused on the wrist position. We have constant video feedback; it's a live feedback the way you correct muscle memory. We have a software in SRMC when a bowler bowls, and after about six seconds he can come back and watch it. Right now he looks fine."
Ojha said his action was now more side-on, but he hadn't made too many other changes. "Definitely [the action is more side-on]," Ojha says. "We tried different types of action to see which would suit me and helped me make things right. The unwanted body movement was corrected. It wasn't like I changed everything completely."
Was there any specific method or exercise to correct his action? "No, there is no set or fixed pattern," Ojha said. "It is an individualistic process, if I can say that."
"Initially I used to do some visualisations but slowly and gradually [the correction] sunk in and I started doing well. After playing five-six domestic games, it become more of a natural thing."
On his return in February, after the BCCI cleared his new action, Ojha took three wickets in an over against Himachal Pradesh. He wheeled away for 42 overs in HP's only innings and finished with a four-wicket haul. He picked up another four-for in the Irani Cup against Karnataka, before returning career-best T20 figures of 4 for 15, against Andhra, in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Ojha also showed good form in the two-match unofficial Test series against Australia A, finishing with ten wickets. India A coach Rahul Dravid lauded Ojha for his control and bowling with a half-sleeved shirt.
"He has taken the bull by the horns: 'I have nothing to hide and I want to bowl with half-sleeves'. He must be applauded for that," Dravid said. "Because he has gone out there [with the thought] that I'm confident in my action and bowling and confident enough to wear a half-sleeve t-shirt."
Asked if preferring to bowl in a half-sleeved shirt was an emphatic statement, Ojha said: "That is up to you experts. But the compliment from Dravid boosted my confidence. It really inspires me to do well."
Ojha's immediate task is to fill a troubling hole in Bengal's bowling attack. While Ashok Dinda and Veer Pratap Singh led Bengal's pace attack last season with handy back-up options in Shib Paul and Sourav Sarkar, spin was an area of concern.
Left-arm spinning allrounder Amit Banerjee, who made his debut last season, took nine wickets in four matches, while Iresh Saxena managed only two wickets. Offspinner Saurashish Lahiri, who led Bengal to the knockouts in 2013-2014, has tailed off and has been left out of the squad for the match against double-treble champions Karnataka. Ojha's guile and experience add weight to a revamped bowling line-up that also includes the former India Under-19 offspinner Aamir Gani.
Should Ojha solve Bengal's spin quandary and bag a sizeable wicket haul this season, a national recall could follow. Ojha, though, emphasised that he was not thinking that far ahead. He said his immediate focus was to take wickets in the Ranji Trophy and maintain his fitness.
"The only things in my control are my bowling and my fitness. If I keep these things right, everything will fall in place. Other things are not in my control. I want to keep it as simple as that."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo