The date was the 5th of November. The venue, the PCA stadium in Mohali. India were playing South Africa in the first of the four Tests, in a series that was to test them across all departments.
Normally, when any team is playing India in India, they begin the series as the underdogs. They know what they are up against and what challenges they are to face.
But South Africa is not a side you would put in that bracket. Their record overseas across varying conditions was among the best for any side and hence, it was not 70-30 in favour of India this time, rather almost 53-47 for India.
The man in the spotlight was Ravichandran Ashwin, who had undergone a transformation in the past 11 months. An excellent World Cup, A Player of the Series performance against Sri Lanka, and suddenly, everyone wanted to watch him bowl.
There, however, was another player who you would not normally associate as a player who would go under the radar, almost unnoticed.
Ravindra Jadeja was the kind of cricketer a captain would want in his side. On his day, he could turn games around, not just in one, but in all three departments of the game.
He has the ability to counter attack with the bat, the ability to take wickets, and at backward point, the hands to pouch catches, ranging from sitters to extraordinary ones.
But the Jadeja heading into this game had a few things to prove. His career had hit a block after he had not the best of World Cups, had not shown to be responsible on the tour of Bangladesh, and as a result was omitted for the start of the home season.
India were in early trouble and looked set to be bowled out for a low score.
Out-walked Jadeja. His bat with no sponsors. A cap on his head. Stood at the wicket in the only way he knew: wrists cocked before splitting as the bat hit the ground.
Tok. One look up. Tok. Imran Tahir, coming around the wicket, bowled a loopy leg-break on middle-stump and he played it to mid-on nonchalantly.
This wasn't the Jadeja we knew, but who would have thought this was the new man we had to get used to.
When a player gets dropped, there is often a change one sees in him. Remember Rahul Dravid? Pigeon-holed as a Test player initially, he went to the drawing board and worked on what he likes to call his 'clutch shots' and came back and had a wonderful 1999 World Cup.
Jadeja had just become an entrant into the 'men who became different players on comeback' list. He made 38 of the most unusual yet most effective runs you could see. It was not great to watch, but it didn't matter. The team needed them and India reached 201, thanks to innings.
The confidence he carried with him with the bat and ball boded well for Indian cricket. He complimented Ashwin very well to finish with an eight-wicket haul in the game and that also fetched him a Player of the Match award.
The dart balls had been replaced with a more effective use of the crease, more loop on the ball and a deceptive straighter one that angled in from virtually the same height. This was new alright.
Fast forward to just over a year later in Chennai. India are involved in a pulsating Test against England and on the final day, need 10 wickets to make it 4-0 in their favour. The pressure to do that is on Ashwin. He has had an outstanding season and is expected to do it, in front of his home fans.
But who stands up instead. It's Jadeja. As England employ the full defensive strategy, the left-arm spinner strides in: One, Two, action, plod, walk back.
The mechanism continues and slowly but surely, the toil pays off. One England batsman follows the other to the pavilion and at around 4:15 P.M, it is over.
The visitors are bowled out for 207 and Jadeja picks up 7 wickets for 48 runs.
The refined Jadeja
Since the 2015 World Cup up till now, what has changed in Jadeja, the cricketer?
#1 His thinking is different when he is bowling
Cast your memory to the game in Durban in 2013 and see the varied difference between the Jadeja of then to the one now. The darts are gone and replaced with a methodical approach. It is no longer just about walking a few paces and drifting the ball at 100mph.
Instead, there is an emphasis on pitching it in areas of the pitch where he is likely to get assistance which increases the chances of bowling more wicket-taking deliveries.
There is a better use of the crease: some deliveries are directed from closer to the wicket and some from away. And all this means more chances of taking wickets.
The above table gives us an indication of the progress Jadeja has made as a bowler and what we are genuinely beginning to see is a player who is getting better at his craft, who is understanding his game, learning about it every day and working at it regularly.
In Pune against Australia, Jadeja beat the bat as many times as a spinner possibly could, but could not get the wickets he desired. In Bengaluru, he bowled equally well but ensured he did not work too hard to turn the ball. That was the critical difference.
He kept it simple. Aimed at the areas that gave him assistance and let the track take care of the rest. The results came in the form of a seven-wicket haul.
#2 Does the captain deserve equal credit?
Sometimes, the capabilities of a player are known only when the leaders of the team know how to get the best out of him.
For whatever enviable Test record that he possessed, former Test captain, MS Dhoni, never really made full use of Jadeja.
He used him as a restrictive option and the Saurashtra all-rounder’s purpose was to ensure that he kept one end tight. Under Kohli, Jadeja looks a different bowler; he is putting in a lot more in his deliveries, and looks to be consistent which has prompted the captain to set fields to take more wickets rather than contain.
It isn't rocket science. It's just how you make maximum use of your resources and he is doing just that. With two Tests to go against Australia before this long home season comes to a close, what is there for Jadeja to achieve?
Where does he stand with Ashwin in winning causes?
While a lot of talk has surrounded Ashwin and his match-winning exploits, one look at both players performance in those matches gives a bit more perspective.
|R Ashwin||Ravindra Jadeja|
The above table gives us a comparison between Ashwin and Jadeja in match winning causes. As is evident from the table, the former leads the latter in the number of wickets taken in match-winning causes, but if there is one aspect that Jadeja is ahead of his off-spinning counterpart it is the average.
If he can continue to chip away with the scalps in the coming season, he would surely continue to improve on that front as well.
With two Tests to go against Australia before this long home season comes to a close, what is there for Jadeja to achieve?
Not much with the ball, in my opinion, but it would be great if he could complete what he left unfinished in Mohali against England: Can we have a Test hundred from you, Sirji?