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Pragyan Ojha and his pursuit for precision

MI spinner speaks about honing his skill set with Anil Kumble and Murali Kartik

For Pragyan Ojha, former India spinner Venkatapathy Raju was a motivation. Being from the same state, Ojha would watch the former spinner bowl at the nets and keep a keen eye on his game. Slowly and gradually as Ojha took his steps in a game that he loved the most - cricket, he began to excel across all three formats. At this point in his career, the left-arm spinner has credentials that he can well be proud of. A ten-wicket haul in Test cricket, a purple cap holder in the past in IPL and words of appreciation from former greats are amongst the few accolades from many that would keep Ojha in good stead.

However, the left-arm spinner who has been a consistent performer in India whites and IPL colours had one of his leanest IPL seasons in 2014.The task for Ojha is cut out as he gears up for a new challenge - Champions League T20.

As Mumbai Indians look to defend their title, Ojha has been working on honing his skills with a view to becoming a better bowler. Gripping the ball and developing variations rank high in his ‘to-work-on’ list as the tournament kickstarts in September.

To reinvent himself, the Mumbai Indians bowler has been working diligently with former cricketers and peers. Ojha has found a guiding force and inspiration in VVS Laxman (who he looks up to as an elder brother) and Mumbai Indians mentor, Anil Kumble. Add former India left-arm spinner Murali Kartik to that list and the result for Ojha could well be there to be seen. In this CLT20.com exclusive, Pragyan Ojha speaks about his work ethics, his appetite to learn and being well prepared for the tournaments ahead.

Excerpts from the interview:

You had a lean IPL season, what have you been working on as you approach CLT20?

I think this is a fast paced tournament and ups and downs will always there. Sometimes you do good, do what you are supposed to do and your work ethic is right but things don’t go your way. But yes, I didn’t quite bowl well in patches in the IPL. I am doing what I have been doing all these years. For the last six-seven years I have been performing in this tournament and I know there is no guarantee that you will always succeed.

What are the underlying things that you keep in mind while bowling in T20?

The biggest thing that I have learnt is that even though it is Twenty20 and the batsmen are going after you, the way to stop a batsman is by being an attacking bowler and looking to get him out. Looking to get the batsman out is the best approach I feel.

What has been the advice from Anil Kumble?

We had a very fruitful camp in Bangalore a few days back. We did a lot of training. I always look forward to working with Anil bhai (Kumble). Because of the amount of experience that he has got, there is something that you will always like to get from him. It was a great experience for me. We were working on certain things like variations that we can do and how we can outsmart the batsmen. These are the few things that you keep on working with these guys. When they give you time, it is quality and you have to make most out of it.

Are there any specific tips that Kumble gave you?

He keeps things very simple and tells me not to complicate my cricket and keep working hard. He is a firm believer of hard work. He himself has always worked hard. People give examples of his work ethic, so I think that is something that I need to keep learning from him, keeping things very simple. Many a times when you are under pressure, you complicate things, your bowling, your mind and then that’s how you lose your way. You have to keep it simple. In the end it is a sport, enjoy it and everything will fall in to place.

Which left-arm spinner do you look up to the most and why?

It is Venkatapathy Raju. We are from the same state. When I was growing up I used to watch him bowl. He motivated me a lot in my initial days. I had the chance of watching him bowl because we used to practice in the same nets that he used to.

And personally in my life, the biggest motivator has been VVS Laxman. He has been a crucial part of my life. He has been there (for me). When there is something wrong, not only the mental aspects or something, when I am not sure about certain things I always fall back on him. He is like an elder brother to me.

What is his advice to you now?

All these players who have played for a long duration and have been successful have always kept things simple. They tell us not to complicate our cricket and not to complicate our mind. Just enjoy it! We started playing this game because we enjoy and love this game. So you shouldn’t complicate too many things.

With more than one skill becoming a necessity are you working on your batting as well?

I am working on batting. I am giving my best whenever I am playing four-day games too. I try to bat according to the situation. If the situation demands that I stay at the crease, I do that. In T20s if I don’t get a ball to hit, I make it a point that I do not throw my wicket away. Like what happened against the Chennai Super Kings in the qualifiers, I gave a single to Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) and he got a six off the last ball. In two balls we got seven runs.

I am trying to be smart in my batting and rather than focusing on my weakness I am focusing on my strengths. Work on what I can do and how I can contribute to my team with the bat, ball and in the field. I keep it simple if there is a senior batsman with him I try to give him the strike.

What are your goals for the coming season?

I am not a believer of all that. My goal is to work hard and be a better bowler than what I was. I am a firm believer of hard work and I have been doing that since childhood. I look to focus on cricket rather than think in this season I have to pick ‘x’ number of wickets.

Are there any new innovations that you are working on?

I am trying to change my grip and just to confuse the batsman I am trying to work on a few deliveries but it is all still in the preliminary stage.

Who are you working with?

Recently I have been working with Anil bhai and all of them but sometimes I speak to Murali Kartik because I feel he is one of the best left-arm spinners around right now. I work with our Ranji Trophy cricketers. When we go out and we bowl, we see each others’ bowling and then analyse. There are a few guys who have played with me since Under-13 level so they know what my bowling is. That is how I work. If there is any confusion there is always Anil bhai and Murali Kartik who I can seek inputs from. If I want to understand any batsman’s psychology then I also talk to Laxman bhai who is ready to advice me on aspects other than cricket as well.

What do you think is Mumbai Indians’ USP?

I think we have a great side. This is one team where I felt that everyone is backing each other which is one of our biggest strengths. And the other one is, everybody who is playing in the team really wants to win, they are not playing just to do good for their own self. Last year too we had a fantastic season because everybody was looking to win and they believed that they could.

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