Ravindra Jadeja. He bowls with his shades on, a nicely maintained haircut and a beard that makes him look uber-cool; a rare athlete and team-man. ‘Unassuming’ is probably the word that comes to mind when we think of him.
No cricketer in the current Indian setting has faced more criticism and received more flak than he has. Rohit Sharma competes hard but Jadeja beats him hands down. No one has silenced more critics than Jadeja has either. One can recount numerous instances now when the left-armer pulled off something magical, on the field or with the ball or with the oft-ignored bat.
He is cricket’s boy next door; he is there for you when you need him, not often valued; not until now at least. Lesser mortals would have given up to appear on reality shows. If actions speak louder than words, Jadeja’s bowling in the last one year is probably the equivalent of a hundred Bose speakers playing death metal in sync.
Think of all those times he was simply stunning while being stunningly simple!
Like that glorious day in Chennai which took India 4-0 up against England. It wasn’t behaving like a fifth-day pitch. It neither crumbled nor deteriorated; it lay there like a proud warrior who wouldn’t yield.
Enter Ravindra Jadeja
England had safely negotiated the first session of the day going in to lunch at 97 for no loss in 37 overs. That was after India scored a mountain of runs – 759 to be specific – in reply to England’s 477. It was Ravichandran Ashwin’s home ground and yet, at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, he seemed as helpless as a pedestrian on an Indian road. His zebra crossing, the rough outside the stumps wasn’t quite there.
On the other end, someone was working a rhythm, ball after ball, over after over. In the last two years, India haven’t had over-rate problems, thanks to Jadeja, who could finish an over before you could make instant coffee or instant noodles. Instant left-arm spin. That looks plain.
Also read: Ravindra Jadeja 2.0 has arrived and how
The ball doesn’t turn viciously, doesn’t dart or spit from the surface like a King Cobra unless it is a vicious surface in itself. That day, the fifth, of the fifth Test between India and England, in 2016, Jadeja showed how he is probably more than just Ashwin’s sidekick. Between lunch and tea, the 28-year-old managed to snaffle Cook, Jennings and Root.
England were in a slight spot of bother but at 167 for 4, going into tea, with Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes steadying the ship, they seemed destined for safety. What happened after tea, though, will haunt them for a while.
Jadeja turned into Edward Scissorhands, hurting them with many cuts, picking up the wickets of Ali and Stokes and opening the floodgates. He snatched victory from the dull, lethargic jaws of a draw, finishing with 7/48 in 25 overs, his first and only 10-wicket haul in a match.
Fast forward a couple of months. India have their back to the walls, after being flipped over in the first Test at Pune by Australia like they were a doormat that needed dusting. Once again, Ashwin, on whom Nathan Lyon and probably half the Australian side could write a PhD thesis thanks to the research they did on him, looked as ineffective as a politician’s promise.
Enter Sir Jadeja, who, for some reason, was under-bowled by Kohli. Ishant Sharma bowled 27, Umesh Yadav bowled 24, Ashwin a whopping 49. Jadeja bowled just 21.4. But he picked up six wickets, four of the top order including the massive ones of the well-settled Matt Renshaw and Shaun Marsh, at crucial junctures.
Contributions that go unnoticed
That was not his only contribution, though. On the end of the first day, Jadeja’s could’ve been the last over before stumps. But the bowling machine that he is, the over was done in the blink of an eye. His super-fast over gave Ishant one last shot and lo and behold, he picked up the wicket of Mitchell Marsh with the last ball of the day – as much credit must go to the bowler as to the ultimate team man, Jadeja.
And he repeated the same, in Australia’s second innings too, bowling a quick over that gave Ashwin another shot at the batsmen before tea. And he managed to pick the big wicket of Matthew Wade. India romped home, with Ashwin getting a six-wicket haul.
Of late, Jadeja has grown from an accurate bowling machine to someone that tinkers once in a while to suit the situation. In one of his interviews, Jadeja, usually a little shy, spoke eloquently about the adjustments in his bowling. He spoke about how his U-14 and U-19 coach had insisted and inculcated in him the habit of bowling consistently on the same line and length to make the batsman make a mistake. That helped him on conducive surfaces in India where his fast and accurate bowling was virtually unplayable.
But this Jadeja is a new monster. With a few interesting tweaks, he has become a bowler who is not vulnerable on flat tracks and who can instead get wickets on them. He uses a round-arm action once in a while to spear the ball in.
He delivers the ball from different heights and also from different points on the crease, going wide sometimes and going close to the stumps at others. He manages to vary his pace unlike before when he would almost always bowl at 90kph.
These changes are giving him a hint of drift with the ball moving inward and then turning outward. The delivery that rattled the off stump of Pat Cummins on day 2 of the third Test at Ranchi on a rather benign surface was a classic left-arm spinner’s magic ball.
Jadeja finished with 5/124 having bowled 49.3 overs, 15 more than the second highest, 34 by Ashwin. That was not all. His value in the team is more than just with the ball. He closed the Australian innings with an MS Dhoni-esque back-flick onto the stumps to catch Josh Hazlewood short.
He makes the most difficult of catches look stunningly simple. Ashwin would vouch for that, unless he is busy bromancing Jadeja and talking about how ‘it can be taken for granted’ that Jadeja will bottle one end up for him, so he can experiment.
Jadeja has 134 wickets in 29 Tests at an impressive average of 23.5. He is the eighth highest wicket-taker over the last two years. For any bowler with more than 10 wickets during this period, he has the lowest economy rate – 2.19 – absolute gold dust.
113 of those wickets have come in 21 Tests at home, at 20.09 mind you. Most of the pitches, barring the ones South Africa got in India were decent ones, not raging turners. In eight Tests overseas, he has 21 wickets, an argument often used against him. But that includes a 6-wicket haul at Durban, a fast bowlers’ paradise, when he ran through South Africa’s hallowed batting order, without much support.
Batting must improve
With the bat, he averages only 25.94. That doesn’t do justice to a man with three triple centuries in first-class cricket. Glimpses of his talent were seen in that glorious 90 at Mohali against England where he played with all the restraint only to throw it away in the end. He could do better there, a lot better.
He is all of 28 and by god, knows how to swing the bat like a sword in true Rajputana style, one of the reasons why fans would love to see him score more half-centuries and centuries.
He will play many more Tests for India, giving Ashwin a run for his money as India’s best spinner. Overseas, Jadeja may still, one day, be picked ahead of Ashwin, because he doesn’t leak runs. He is also probably the best No. 9 batsman in the world, when he plays alongside Ashwin, giving the Indian tail a good shape.
What’s not to like about him?