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Pragyan Ojha’s omission defies logic

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Pragyan Ojha was the pick of the bowlers in India’s series defeat to England at home in 2012 © PTI

In what seemed like a quixotic decision, Pragyan Ojha was left out of the eleven in the first Test against Australia. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at yet another bizarre move by the Indian selection committee.

Jaws dropped on Friday morning when the Indian line-up for the first Test at Chennai against Australia was made known. The Indian think-tank had the following data before they made the crucial decision:

Records since June 1, 2011 (excluding the ongoing Chennai Test)
 

Player Matches Wickets Average
Pragyan Ojha 9 53 24.66
Ravichandran Ashwin 12 63 32.41
Harbhajan Singh 6 15 43.33
Ishant Sharma 16 47 41.87

 
The think-tank had to pick three out of the four players mentioned above. Given that the Chennai track was going to be a rank turner, India should have ideally picked three spinners. But if they were really keen on Ishant Sharma, who has proved to be quite incompetent and overstayed his welcome, they had to opt for two spinners.

Logic and form dictated that the first choice spinner should be Pragyan Ojha. Ashwin had to be the No 2 choice because he had just one bad series. Moreover, he brings value to the line-up as an useful lower-order batsman. Harbhajan Singh, as the figures above proves, has been a consistent failure over the past two years and was a misfit.  The inclusion of Harbhajan in the squad was baffling enough, given that the likes of Jalaj Saxena (4 for 61 for India A), Rakesh Dhruv (5 for 51 for India A), and Parvez Rasool (7 for 45 for Board President’s XI) had done seriously well in Australia’s tour matches but could not get into the squad. Harbhajan getting a chance ahead of Ojha in the first eleven completely defies logic.

Harbhajan has simply faded with time. Seldom has Harbhajan gone on to do well if he did not get an early breakthrough, even in his heydays, unlike the relentless Anil Kumble who bowled on day in and day out, and did it willingly. Harbhajan has never assumed the responsibility as the senior spinner of the side, and with Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin coming in, no one had even given him a chance.

Only a hopeless romantic would think there will be an encore of 2001, when Harbhajan took 13 at Kolkata and 15 at Chennai to win the series for India. He does not flight the ball these days, the way he used to 12 years back. He bowls flat, as if his sole motto is to check runs, not take wickets.

The Indian think-tank possibly has gone for the weird conception that left-arm spinners do not do well against left-hand batsmen, who dominate Australia’s top order. As it turned out, Harbhajan has failed to take a single wicket as Moises Henriques — possibly the first Portuguese to trouble Indians since Vasco da Gama — added 151 runs with Michael Clarke. MS Dhoni clearly missed Ojha, who may have broken the stand much earlier.

Dhoni cannot blame anyone, though. He has opted for the duo of Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan, who have turned out to be as toothless as a turtle on a track where Ravichandran Ashwin has redeemed his failure in the England series, picking up the first six Australian wickets, while Ravindra Jadeja dismissed a left-hand batsman with his left-arm spin.

Let’s hope that the selectors see sense and bring the best Indian spinner back. Ojha simply has to be played in the eleven.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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