With Dhoni gone Naman knows the time is now

India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s decision to retire from Test cricket has come like a breath of fresh air for many wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country. Madhya Pradesh vice-captain Naman Ojha is one of them. While going through his batting and wicketkeeping drills on the eve of his side’s Ranji Trophy game against Mumbai at the Wankhede on Sunday, the 31-year-old Ojha was the only centre of attention.

His performances in Australia (‘A’ tour) and Duleep Trophy have made a strong contender for the slot now occupied by Wriddhiman Saha. Ojha scored two hundreds and a double century from four innings for India ‘A’ in Australia, before making 217 for Central Zone against North Zone in the Duleep Trophy.

“I have done well in Australia and also in the Duleep Trophy. I feel confident that I can do well at the highest level,” said Ojha, who was in Australia as a back-up for Saha during the first Test in Adelaide. Has Dhoni’s retirement from Tests given him hope? “Yes. Playing for India is the biggest motivation anyone can have. I’ve performed like a (specialist) batsman (should). I’m always motivated to play at No. 3, 4 or 5 or 6 as a wicketkeeper-batsman or specialist batsman. I have been scoring heavily for the past two or three seasons,” he added.

Ojha said it gets frustrating when your performances are ignored. “Sometimes, I do get frustrated. Sometimes, I get angry too. Then, then I realise it’s part and parcel of life. It’s all right. And I get back to the practice field. I tell myself that selection isn’t in my hands, performance is. And a good performance gives me a lot of happiness.”

Considering the performances that he has delivered, Ojha believes he leads the race to take Dhoni’s place in Team India. “All are in contention, but I have got the edge. I love batting and that will be important.” Ojha has been part of the Indian dressing room for quite a few teams, but his interaction with Dhoni has been limited. “We have not talked much,” he said.

The Ujjain-born player has been working with former India wicketkeeper Kiran More. “I have been working with Kiran More for the last five to six years and have improved a lot,” he said. During one of the IPL season, Ojha got the opportunity to meet his idol, Adam Gilchrist. “(Shane) Warne made me to talk to him. Gilly just asked me to enjoy the game, that’s it,” he said.

So how was it keeping to spin wizard Warne at Rajasthan Royals. “It is not easy to keep him. He turns the ball a lot. Forget batsmen, even wicketkeepers find it tough. However, I enjoyed it. He has asked me to back myself which is the most important thing,” he added.

Full Name: Naman Vinaykumar Ojha
Born: July 20, 1983, in Ujjain
* Made his international debut in an ODI against Sri Lanka in Harare in 2010
* Made his T20 International debut against Zimbabwe in Harare in 2010
* Scored 1,545 runs in 2013-14 first-class season
* Scored a double ton and two tons against Australia ‘A’ in Australia
* Was reserve wicketkeeper for the first Test against Australia in Adelaide

Format M Runs Best Avg 100s 50s Ct St
ODIs 1 1 1 1.00 0 0 0 1
T20Is 2 12 10 6.000 0 0 0 0
First-class 105 7,283 219* 43.35 17 41 297 37
List A 107 3,192 167 31.92 6 18 124 34
T20 101 1,815 94* 22.13 0 9 62 16