Naman Ojha feels the arrival of new signings like Kevin Pietersen and Mahela Jayawardene has helped Delhi finish top of the table this season.
Last season, they finished bottom of the pile. This year, Delhi Daredevils are gearing up to play Kolkata Knight Riders in the play-off on Tuesday as the top-ranked team of IPL 5. It's a pretty dramatic turnaround for a side that only managed four wins last season (they have 11 this year, having played two games more), and for wicketkeeper-batsman Naman Ojha, it is the new signings that have made the crucial difference.
"First of all, KP [Kevin Pietersen] and Mahela [Jayawardene] came. And then Ross [Taylor] came. Last year I think our middle order was not that strong. This year three big guns came and strengthened it," said Ojha.
His pick for the most influential of them all? "Kevin Pietersen. He played brilliantly in whatever games he was here for us, and [many times] he single-handedly took us home. He also gelled well with the team and spoke to the players. That makes a big difference, if the big players talk to the younger players and give them confidence."
Another reason for the change in Delhi's fortunes, Ojha pointed out, is the markedly improved performance of their pace attack, led by Morne Morkel and well supported by rising Indian pacers Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron. "As compared to last year, all three are different bowlers [this season]. They have bowled brilliantly till now. Irfan [Pathan] and [Shahbaz] Nadeem are also doing well. Nadeem has bowled exceptionally well, especially in the first half of the tournament. In the second half, [Pawan] Negi has bowled brilliantly."
Ojha himself has performed better as compared to last season and has held his own in a star-studded line-up, playing in all 16 league games, scoring 220 runs at a strike rate of 115.18. "From the beginning of the season I was very confident about my batting, that I'll go and get runs. Since I'm a wicketkeeper-batsman, I usually have to play down the order, and it's difficult to get runs there in Twenty20. But it's good to get some 20s and 30s for my team, whether to take them home or help set a good total. So I am very happy with my batting, and also with my 'keeping. I've done quite well in IPL 5," he said.
The runs have come from different positions – as an opener, at No.3 or No.7 – but Ojha has no complaints. "If you open the innings, you have to be a little careful. If you're batting at No.7, you still have to be careful but you also have to play your shots. But whichever position you play in, you have to back yourself. I'm an opener for my first-class team [Madhya Pradesh], so I can adjust. If you're an opener, you can adjust anywhere. But it's difficult for a No.7 to open the innings. So that's a good thing for me.”
Despite their strong performances, however, there still persists a belief that Delhi could perhaps struggle if their big-hitting opening pair of Virender Sehwag and David Warner fails. "I think everyone has their own perception and we can't change it," said Ojha. "But the middle order has performed well and won matches for Delhi this season. So I think that is a good reply to them [the critics]."
Looking ahead to the play-off, Ojha was cautious, but confident. "This has been a competitive tournament so far. The format is such, any team can win on its day. We have been doing that, but whichever team does better with the bat and ball on the day, will win."
As for his own future, the 28-year-old last played for India in June 2010 and has represented the national side in two T20s and one ODI so far, but he still has hopes of getting another chance. "I am definitely looking to make a comeback into the Indian team. I've done well in the domestic circuit and my first-class season went very well. I have done well in the IPL also. I am working daily to improve in all aspects, be it my fitness, batting or 'keeping. So I am very hopeful that I will get a chance to play for the country."