New Delhi: If there has ever been a list prepared of players who were consistent performers on the Indian domestic circuit but failed to get recognition on the international scene, the name of Madhya Pradesh's wicketkeeper-batsman Naman Ojha would probably figure somewhere up in the top bracket.
Though the 29-year-old has represented India in a single ODI and two Twenty20 internationals against Zimbabwe in 2010 – in a series in which most of the country’s leading players, including MS Dhoni, took a break – his is a case of domestic consistency not being matched by India recognition.
Ojha made his first-class debut during the 2000-01 Ranji Trophy season and became a regular member of MP’s squad thanks to his neat glovework behind the wickets and an ability to hit the ball hard and long. While an innings of 90 against Vidarbha in that maiden season brought him into instant reckoning, it was a breakthrough 2003-04 season – close to 700 runs at an average of over 49 – that made people believe that Ojha was here for a long haul.
Reflecting on his career, Ojha told Cricketnext: "It's the effort I have put in day in and day out that made people believe that I would go the distance. I did what I was supposed to do: score runs whenever possibly I could. Selection obviously is not in my hands. My aim has always been to perform well."
As with some of his leading wicket-keeping peers such as Tamil Nadu's Dinesh Karthik and Bengal's Wriddhiman Saha, Ojha’s career has coincided with the rise of MS Dhoni who has stamped his authority in a manner that few others have been able to find a place in the Indian team. However, he has chosen not to focus on this. "I was always concerned about my performance rather than dwelling too much on others' work. I have worked hard at whichever level I played at and that has been my mantra so far,” he said.
Good performances helped Ojha get an IPL contract with Rajasthan Royals in 2009 and it did not take him long to showcase his prowess with the bat in the top order. His 377 runs in the 2010 IPL earned him a contract the following season with Delhi Daredevils who were looking for an experienced hand to replace Karthik, who decided to play for Mumbai Indians. But unlike with the Royals, where a dearth of star players meant more chances for others to perform, Daredevils’ reliance on the top order left Ojha to mould his game accordingly. With his new team, Ojha was expected to hit a quick 20 or 30 while batting lower.
"I have always batted in the top order for my state, so batting at No. 7 is a challenge for me. But like other things, I am trying to develop my game so that I will be useful for my franchise in that position," he said.
At 29, Ojha understands that time is running out. "I need to be more consistent. I still have plenty of cricket left in me and all I am thinking as of now is the upcoming season and our team's first match against Gujarat from November 2. Another good season, both with the bat and behind the wickets, and a bit of luck going my way, who knows, things may change for me.”