Pragyan Ojha can consider himself unlucky as Ravindra Jadeja’s performance at Durban knocked him out of the Test squad. Meanwhile, Ishwar Pandey walks in as the Indian selectors have weighed in the conditions in New Zealand. Nishad Pai Vaidya examines the two selections.
A bowler records a 10-wicket match haul and is dropped for the next two Tests before being axed from the side; wouldn’t you call him unlucky? Yes, Pragyan Ojha would feel hard done by as the selectors omitted him from the Test side for the tour to New Zealand. The left-arm spinner has been an understudy to Ravichandran Ashwin whenever India have travelled abroad. However, when Ashwin was dropped for the Durban Test, Ravindra Jadeja came into the side and made it count with a six-wicket haul. That effectively sealed Ojha’s fate.
At the outset, one gets the feeling that the squad for the Tests in New Zealand is horses for courses. Knowing the conditions there, it wouldn’t have made sense to take a third spinner as the Indians would emphasize on pace. Ojha’s classical left-arm spin may not be all that useful in New Zealand and they may require a pacer instead. As a result, Ishwar Pandey, the Madhya Pradesh seamer has made the cut. Pandey is known to move the ball and bowl at a medium-pace. He toured South Africa with India A after a successful domestic season last year and has done decently well.
But, Ojha’s case is very intriguing. In home conditions, he has matched Ashwin at every step and formed a lethal combination on tracks that offer good assistance to the tweakers. Ojha hasn’t played a Test outside the sub-continent as Ashwin has been India’s preferred spinner in Australia and South Africa. However, Ashwin’s prolonged struggle opener the door for Jadeja. India looked for an ideal foil to Ashwin the cricketer, not the bowler as the Tamil Nadu player would be a handy batsman. Thus, Jadeja came in and was an instant success. What if Ojha had made it to the side? Had India opted for the pure spinner, Ojha would have come in. Ultimately, those are all ifs and buts.
In 2011, Ojha had a successful time with Surrey in county cricket and was then called into the beleaguered Indian Test side that summer. That record showed what he could do and he has to be given a run away from the sub-continent at some point in time. Then, India would not only depend on Ashwin alone for the spinning duties when they travel overseas. Jadeja fits in now, but to expect him to strike consistency as a bowler may be far-fetched as he is primarily an all-rounder whose strengths lie in both faculties.
Coming to Pandey, it is a good call as his bowling may do the job in those conditions in New Zealand. He doesn’t bowl that fast, but can get movement. Lalchand Rajput, the India A coach told CricketCountry in September this year, “Pandey has a very good out-swinger. He has great control and his yorker is effective. As of now he bowls around the 130-135kph mark. He is definitely a good prospect, but has to work on a few things.” So, Pandey seems to be a work in progress and this selection would help him gain some vital dressing room experience. This season, he has taken 30 wickets in eight matches at an average of 24.76.
When CricketCountry spoke to Pandey in September after he returned from South Africa, he said, “Yes, of course, one wants to play for the country. In fact, if I get to play for my state or country I want to give my best and do well. In the immediate future, I am going to concentrate on my cricket and can’t say that I have a certain goal. I have to work hard and I am not thinking too much in the future.” Little did he know that the India call was only a few months away.
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