Ravindra Jadeja took 24 wickets in the four-Test series against Australia.
Not so long ago or perhaps even as I write this, Ravindra Jadeja is an Internet meme, the darling of the social media networks, a source of constant entertainment for the Internet cricket followers, more often than not, a butt of most jokes.
Just before the Delhi Test match, a game he made his own through his performance, his Wikipedia page became the subject of random vandalism by cricket fans, presumably his detractors. It read, “Sir Ravindra Jadeja (edit) is a philanthropist, a Nobel prize winner, a double Laureus sportman of the year and the nearest human to being God. After consistent pleading by the BCCI to save the nation, Jadeja agreed to play as an Indian cricketer. He was Knighted in 2005 due to his one-in-a-million talent, and being the messenger of god.”
But what is undeniable is the fact that he was the find of this series, emerging today as one of the most improved cricketers in Indian cricket. After all, twenty four, that's right, twenty four wickets in a series is no joke. With every wicket he took, he'd make some of his fiercest critics, including myself, gorge on a plate of humble pie, slice by slice, bite by bite. He won, and rather handsomely.
Little over three months ago, when Jadeja was picked to represent India in Test cricket for the first time, it was due to some impressive, if not crazy numbers in domestic cricket for Saurashtra. A batting tally of almost 800 runs in 5 first-class matches, two triple-hundreds, a highest score of 331 - the other triple being an unbeaten 303 against Gujarat.
Bowling-wise, the numbers weren’t bad either. 24 wickets at 20.71 a piece, with a best of 6/71. You could at best joke about these numbers and the fact that they belonged to Jadeja, but you couldn’t argue against his potential to churn out these performances or even his selection for that fact. Slightly superhuman. Just slightly. His selection was quite typically met with a lot of curiosity, especially considering the format that he’d been drafted in for.
It was a fairly easy call for the selectors, given that Jadeja was clearly the man in form, and almost single-handedly (though Jogiyani fans might dispute this) set up Saurashtra’s march to the final. In a sense, the think-tank knew what they were doing. They had a plan in mind and importantly, for Jadeja, they had a role which they believed he could not just play reasonably well, but excel in. They wanted a package that they longed for, one that was becoming hard to find. They got one.
KEEPING THOSE internet jokes aside, Jadeja is no prodigy. He’s first and foremost come the hard way, by sheer performances in the Ranji Trophy and somewhere along the way he’s figured out his game. You could argue about him being a late bloomer, but for someone who over the years has been compartmentalized as a limited-overs specialist, despite his more than decent track record in First Class cricket, it was important for Jadeja to spend more time at that level to understand what exactly he offers Indian cricket at the Test level.
On the evidence of what we’ve witnessed, that looks like the case. Today, he offers the think-tank a reasonable batsman at the position he plays, perhaps better than most of us think he is. Again, nothing exceptional but handy runs lower down the order always help, irrespective of the situation. He also comes through as a bowler who feeds on his limitations and does it exceptionally well.
Depending on the situation, he’s displayed the abilities of a man who could hold one end up, keeping the flow of runs by doing the simple bits with a great amount of repetition and consistency. And let’s admit, a proper fit cricketer with exceptional fielding skills and a sense of energy about him that India lacked in the last eighteen months.
For an all-rounder spinner who was in effect competing with a specialist in the current setup - either Pragyan Ojha or Harbhajan Singh during different times in this series, his contributions have been nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, the menacing bit about Jadeja’s bowling lay in the very simplicity of his art (if you could call it that). He was by no means unplayable, but was made to look just that by a bunch of batsmen who lacked the technique, the acumen and the patience to withstand his immaculate perseverance.
THE MANTRA and the trap was simple — bowl line and length, wicket to wicket, occasionally land one that turns away from the right-hander, sow that seed of doubt that undoes the batsman’s already scrambled head and keep doing that all day long. Loose balls were rare, almost extinct. He was hard to get away, because of the accuracy and the sheer discipline he’d put into it. Also, it helps to have someone who bowls with an uncomplicated action, with what you wouldn’t call a run-up, he was averaging almost a couple of minutes an over, which obviously meant within no time, there was a changeover and the batsmen had face Ravichandran Ashwin. It definitely looked like smart planning, especially against the Australians whose fidgety tendencies, when the runs dried up would almost oblige with a bad shot he’d regret.
IN THIS series, there was a sense of maturity about Ravindra Jadeja. Not just consistency, but he figured out the finer aspects of spin bowling — the trajectory, the length and importantly, the pace. The drier the wicket, the faster he’d bowl, forcing the batsman to adjust within no time as the ball landed and more often than not, spun away. Two years ago, similar situation, he’d bowl a release ball, a long-hop or a full-toss or even an over-pitched delivery that instantly undid every good work he’d put in before.
It also helps that Jadeja, over the years has become a key member of a fresh, young core that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has identified. It is undeniable that he enjoys a special relationship with the captain solely based on trust and belief. He’s emerged as someone akin to what Harbhajan was to Ganguly, a trusted lieutenant who, should the situation arise, would happily and wholeheartedly put his body on the line and get things done. The basis of the relationship is rather simple and a mutual sense of confidence in each other.
Here’s a captain who quite blindly believes in Jadeja’s ability as an asset in all forms of the game, more recently as a Test match operator, while Jadeja derives a great degree of strength from this confidence his skipper has in him. It’s one of those cases, not dissimilar to Suresh Raina, where Dhoni has taken him aside, briefed him about his role, importance and value rather intricately, and like a loyal soldier, he’s repaid that trust, at least in this series.
Or maybe, just maybe, he’s that type of a player — someone who, as demonstrated by Shane Warne during his IPL stint with the Rajasthan franchise or even by the Saurashtra setup with coach Debu Mitra and Cheteshwar Pujara, that given a mentor, given someone who trusts him, could shine and repay that faith with stellar performances. This is by no means uncommon in sport or even nothing to be ashamed of.
THE BIGGEST takeaway from this series for Indian cricket is the sense of freshness about the dressing room and sets things up perfectly for the end of year tour to South Africa. Like every cricketer who’s played before him and will represent India after Jadeja, he will be put through his toughest tests abroad, away from the dustbowls that the subcontinent offers, but is there where could yet play a role.
Jadeja’s emergence as a package, at the very least makes him an option, giving the captain an opportunity to play three quicks, and two spinners, along with Ashwin. It is a trend the captain will have to buck, given his preference, almost a fetish for three quicks and a lone spinner abroad. But more than his bowling, which on bouncy, fast-paced wickets would be laced with a fair degree of predictability, his batting could again come in handy - to either resist or consolidate, depending on the situation. At least, with this showing, he’s earned that opportunity, that chance to show what he’s about in those conditions.
A quick glance through my Facebook feed, and I found this - the latest meme doing the rounds on a popular social media websites — “One day Sir Ravindra Jadeja smoked a cigar,” it says, and as you scroll lower, and as you try and overcome that curiosity to check the rest of the joke, it reads, “And Australia and England compete for the Ashes.”
It sounds utterly cheesy, a terrible attempt at humour, but that’s exactly what Sir Ravindra Jadeja has over the years been subject to. It’s hard to imagine someone who’s copped up these levels of abuse and jokes and yet, tried harder each time he took the field. This series, from Jadeja’s perspective wasn’t about proving people wrong. No way. This was about telling people that he belonged. He sure did.