Naman Ojha - The man who is one of us
Naman Ojha made his Test debut yesterday. For the first time, his name was included in India’s team sheet. For the first time, there were no MS Dhoni’s or Wriddhiman Saha’s blocking his entry into the Test side. For the first time, Ojha was good enough. That was his biggest achievement, for he spent an entire life until today trying to be good enough. As a wicket-keeper, as a batsman, as a cricketer.
Yesterday, when Ojha became the 285th player to represent India in Test Cricket, there was a certain joy, a certain happiness that came with it. It felt like it was one of us was making their debut, it felt like it was one of us representing our country, it like it was one of us getting that Indian cap. It felt like cap number 285 is ours. For, Ojha is one of us.
Ojha was never destined to play for India. Ojha had never been considered special. He was not a brilliant hitter of the cricket ball like MS Dhoni was. He was not a teenage prodigy, like Parthiv Patel was. He was not a prolific run scorer like Dinesh Karthik was. He was not one of the best wicket keepers India had ever produced like Wriddhiman Saha was. He was just an ordinary man with a dream. That dream was to play Test Cricket for India, that dream was to be good enough.
It took him 15 years to achieve his dream, but he did. Along the way, he didn’t face any heroic struggles that people will talk about. He was never under the pressure of being dropped, he didn’t have financial troubles, he didn’t have his family not supporting him. The struggle he had was pretty ordinary. His struggle was to be good enough.
For nine years, from 2000 to 2009, he went about playing decent cricket for Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy. He didn’t score too many runs, he didn’t take brilliant catches. He was just okay. The chances of him representing India were next to zero. MS Dhoni had made the wicket keeping position his own. India had former first choice keepers Karthik and Patel waiting in the wings. Ojha, well nobody had even heard of him.
2009 was the year in which people first heard his name. It was the IPL that year which made people aware of his existence. Rather, it was the Rajasthan Royals which made people aware of his existence. He spent two years with them. He got a lot of chances, opening the batting for them on the big stage. And he made good use of it, scoring consistent runs. In almost all matches, he was one of their top scorers. It helped, this time he spent with the Rajasthan Royals. That first Indian call-up came because of it.
After the 2010 IPL, Ojha was selected in India’s second string squad for the limited overs tour to Zimbabwe. While being selected for India was a big thing, the fact that it was a depleted side, missing virtually all of it’s regular players, took a quite some sheen off it.
During the tour, Ojha found out that international cricket was tough, even when Zimbabwe was the opposition. The IPL was no match for it. The same Ojha who was so successful for the Rajasthan Royals only scored a total of 13 runs from three innings. He wasn’t selected on the basis of his first class performances. It was only because of the IPL that he was here. It didn’t feel quite right, his selection. He wasn’t ready yet. He wasn’t good enough. That dream still needed to be fulfilled. After this outing, not many believed it could. But Ojha did.
Ojha spent the next four years in oblivion. His first class batting went downhill, regained form and finally showed signs of touching new highs. The problem was that nobody was noticing. Madhya Pradesh is a team not many are interested in. It was the same situation as before. It was the IPL that was different. It had now become the platform for India hopefuls to carry on the good form they had shown in the first class arena on to the bigger stage. But Ojha was not getting that platform. His new franchise, Delhi Daredevils, batted him very low in the batting order, where he rarely had time to score runs.
His name had begun to slip out of people’s minds. It was strange, given the fact that his first class batting was better than it had ever been. That Indian dream felt more and more impossible with each passing season. But Ojha kept at it. Unlike others, he had never been rated highly, he had never made people sit up and take notice. He was never good enough. But he wanted to be. He had this immense desire in him. There was just no way he would not be. It’s this drive, this spirit, this want to do well that made him admirable.
The period from December 2013 to December 2014, for Ojha, was nothing short of magical. It was what happens in fairy tale sports movies, not in real life. 835 runs from 7 matches in the Ranji Trophy. Selection for the India ‘A’ tour to Australia. A pair of centuries, along with an unbeaten double in three innings there. Selection in the Indian team on the tour to England as a replacement for the injured Wriddhiman Saha. The Double century in the Duleep Trophy semi-final. Selection as India’s back-up keeper for the first test on the tour to Australia. All this when nobody even gave him a chance. This phase was magnificent. It was more than magnificent.
Ojha’s batting had taken a major leap. MS Dhoni had retired. He was now in contention for a regular spot in the team. He was still behind Wriddhiman Saha in the pecking order. He was almost an Indian Test cricketer. He was almost good enough. His journey had become special because of its ordinariness. His name was back in people’s minds. This time he made sure it won’t be forgotten.
It was now just a matter of time before Ojha made his Test debut. That time came when Wriddhiman Saha injured himself during the second test of the Sri Lankan tour. Ojha was flown into Colombo. He would be making his Test debut in two days. He would be fulfilling his dream. He would be inspiring millions of others to fulfil theirs.
When he was handed over his cap, it seemed like an acknowledgement for a victory. That of a man who overcame his ordinariness with his grit, determination, will-power, with a drive, with a passion to become special, to become good enough, to become something he never was, to become something nobody ever expected him to.
When Ojha became a Test cricketer, it gave us the belief that no matter how ordinary we are, if we dream, we can become special. We just need that resolve, that spirit. When we have that we become special. When we start giving our dream all we can, we become special. Hidden behind our ordinariness is something special, something magical. Ojha taught us that.
Out of all Indian debuts in recent history, this one was probably the most inspirational. It was not the debut of a man with seemingly limitless talent, as Rohit Sharma’s was. It was not the debut of a man with a massive inner steel on display right from the beginning of his career, as Virat Kohli’s was. It was the not debut of a man who was destined to play international cricket, as Cheteshwar Pujara’s was. It was the debut of an ordinary man who just wanted to be good enough. Even if Ojha doesn’t play another Test match for India, he will know that on 28 August 2015 he was good enough. For these five days at least, Ojha will live his dream. And we will live it along with him. For he’s just one of us.