Since the beginning of his Test career in December 2012, Ravindra Jadeja's journey has been like a roller coaster ride. He has faced a lot of ups and downs but those difficulties have moulded him into a lethal bowling weapon.
Moreover, his good bowling form has also impacted his batting form proportionately and that has given rise to the all-rounder in him.
Touted only as a limited overs prospect during his initial years
Believed to be only a 'bits and pieces' player at the start of his career, his inclusion in the Test squad for the fourth Test against England at home back in the 2012/13 season raised many eyebrows for Jadeja was over-aggressive, flashy and flamboyant!
He was tailor-made for the modern 'Slam-Bang' format of cricket – a player who could bat a bit, bowl a bit and was like Jonty Rhodes when it came to setting the game on fire with his fielding!
According to conventional wisdom, such players are never able to do justice to the purest format of cricket. For Test cricket is all about calmness, composure, controlled aggression, patience and serenity and none of these qualities were visible in Jadeja. Moreover, critics turned their attention towards him the when he returned figures of 3/117 in his debut match.
2012/13 Test series vs Australia – Silencing his critics
However, he silenced all his critics with a fabulous performance in his following Test series against Australia as he claimed 24 wickets in four matches at a superb average of 17.45. So, how did this young lad who was believed only to be a limited overs specialist wreak havoc on the opposition in the longest format of the game?
It was his ability to bowl untiring spells with immaculate line and length and the ability to extract bite and bounce off the surface that made him unplayable most of the time. The Aussie skipper Michael Clarke himself fell victim as many as five times to the left arm spinner in the series.
Downward journey of the roller coaster
Although he had a dream start to his Test career, he didn’t have any idea about the torrid time that was to come. After his exploits with the ball at home, it was time for him to perform in overseas conditions. However, Jadeja failed to deliver with the ball on tours to Australia, South Africa and England.
His wicket-to-wicket bowling hardly troubled the batsmen on decks conducive only to pace bowling. An important aspect of being an all-rounder is that you have to deliver with the bat if you fail to do so with the ball and vice versa. The fact that he had three triple tons in first-class cricket only increased the expectations whenever he came in to bat.
However, he did not come close to emulating his domestic record with the willow at the international arena as a breezy 57 ball 68 at Lord's was the only notable innings he played over a period of three years.
A shoulder injury and a dip in form later affected his performances and that resulted in his exclusion from the squad. Amit Mishra took full advantage of the opportunity as he replaced Jadeja in the squad and produced a couple of match-winning performances with his leg spin.
Real warriors are those who take adversity in their stride and rise up with more courage after falling down. In the 2015-16 Ranji season, Jadeja reaped the rewards of his hard work as he picked up six consecutive 5-wicket hauls and scored a couple of 50s for Saurashtra in the first three matches.
The news spread among the selectors like wildfire and Jadeja was recalled into the Test squad immediately for the home series against the Proteas. As the 4-match series ended, India had a memorable 3-0 victory to their name with the southpaw being the main architect, claiming 23 wickets at an average of 10.82. Thus, Jadeja had announced his comeback in his own distinct style!
After concluding the 2015/16 season in style, Jadeja was only looking to improve his game as an all-rounder. The 2016/17 season turned out to be a dream season for him as he became only the third player and second Indian to claim the double of 50 wickets and 500 runs in a single season; Kapil Dev and Mitchell Johnson are the two other players who have achieved this rare feat.
68 wickets in 13 Tests is no child’s play and when it came to delivering with the willow, he amassed a total of 556 runs at an average over 40. Never in his career had he averaged even close to 30 and in this season, he bettered that by some distance.
Moreover, six of his seven half-centuries have come in this season against tough oppositions like New Zealand, England and Australia. He also climbed to the top of the ICC bowlers’ rankings and bagged the ‘Man of the Series’ award against Australia for a fabulous display with both bat and ball.
So, how did the transformation occur?
The most important factor behind such a transformation is his tremendous self-belief. The belief that he can be the best with his abilities and the newly-found will power to do well under any circumstances have helped him to be where he is today. Moreover, the lessons from his earlier mistakes also played a pivotal role in his transformation.
He gained valuable experience and learnt the art of varying his pace and using different angles off the crease which is very important for a one-dimensional left arm orthodox spin bowler. As far as his batting is concerned, he rectified the flaws in his defence and technique which is a very important aspect for any Test batsman.
This may just turn out to be the season that goes on to define his career. Now that Jadeja is gradually starting to come of age as an all-rounder, it is important that he keeps learning from his mistakes and keeps his feet grounded. His bowling has become almost flawless and being ranked the No. 1 Test bowler in the world is a testament to that.
The southpaw’s fielding is impeccable and India are very lucky to have a fielder like him in their ranks. However, there is still a fair distance to cover if he wants to become a perfect all-rounder in the longer format. Jadeja needs to learn how to convert his notable 50s into big triple-digit scores.
He has done it in the domestic arena and he needs to repeat it in the international arena as well. And the signs he is showing confirm that he is only going to be a nightmare for the opposition in the future.
Oppositions beware! Sir Jadeja has finally arrived!