Ravindra Jadeja, the No.3-ranked all-rounder in Tests, demonstrated his worth as a champion cricketer in whites once again with a quietly vital performance in the first Test against South Africa, writes Aadya Sharma.
“Jadeja has been an understated cricketer, but he is priceless.”
When Ravindra Jadeja conjured a daring 59-ball 77 in India’s failed chase of the World Cup semi-final, Virat Kohli had, in one sentence, summarised a decade-long international career, fraught with fighting doubts and detractors. Now a stellar match-winner, the Jadeja of today is already far removed from the scrawny, publicly scrutinised teenager that emerged in 2009. And yet, each passing match gives further reasons to believe that this multi-faceted cricketer is undergoing yet another upgrade.
The Visakhapatnam Test, Jadeja’s 44th overall, saw him become the fastest left-armer to 200 wickets in the format, another feather in his bulging cap. The all-round performance was a microcosm of Jadeja’s overall brilliance – acting as a foil for India’s cabal of match-winners, he might not always record the most spectacular of figures, but the consistently strung-together collection of key bits (and pieces) make him an indispensable figure.
Jadeja is a beast at home; on dry, dreary Indian pitches, his dart-like left-arm spin gets a ready canvas to work on. He does not flight the ball like his opposite number, Keshav Maharaj, but relies on persisting on a nagging channel, where he craftily tweaks his speeds and grips, to vary his deliveries.
— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) October 6, 2019
His mode of operation often helps effect a breakthrough in long partnerships, with Jadeja’s relentless methods enticing errors out of set batsmen by sheer persistence. He snapped a 164-run partnership in the first innings, removing centurion Dean Elgar, who had blunted the bowling attack for 286 deliveries. Eyeing his fifth six of the innings, Elgar tried to slog sweep Jadeja over midwicket, but misread the pace and trajectory, holing to deep midwicket. It was an over in which Jadeja’s speed range clocked from 88 kmph to 95 kmph, with his match top speed breaching the 100-kph mark.
He isn’t just an old-ball operator; with a new, hard ball in his hand, he dismissed Elgar again the very next day, getting some grip and gentle turn off the surface to catch him in front of the stumps.
With Ravichandran Ashwin using the surface to extract turn on Sunday, and Mohammed Shami harnessing reverse swing, there was all sorts of magic happening around Jadeja. But he stuck to his tried-and-tested formula to pick up four South African wickets, flourishing on the deteriorating fifth-day Indian pitch just like he does on contrasting surfaces abroad.
— Ravindrasinh jadeja (@imjadeja) October 4, 2019
Last month, coach Ravi Shastri explained why he preferred Jadeja over Ashwin for the West Indies Tests. “Jaddu’s record is fabulous,” he told Sony Pictures. “You have to see what he brings to the table. If you see these tracks, I don’t think there will be much on offer for the spinner, so you would need control.”
Yet, spin isn’t the only package Jadeja offers. “He’s arguably the best fielder in the world now,” Shastri continued. “He’s improved his batting like hell.”
Jadeja’s batting has been on a steep upward curve recently – three of Jadeja’s top four Test scores have come in the last 12 months, including his maiden Test ton, at No.7 against West Indies.
Such striking numbers have given the management enough confidence to hand Jadeja a promotion; he walked out to bat ahead of specialist batsman Hanuma Vihari and keeper Wriddhiman Saha in both innings. While he remained unbeaten on a solid 46-ball 30 the first time, Jadeja flipped gears with his thunderous stroke-play in the second, exhibiting how his approach isn’t one-dimensional, but governed by the situation. A six off just his third ball in the second innings, and two more maximums in his 32-ball 40, gave India the impetus to post a 395-run target.
Add to that his razor-sharp fielding at backward point, which gives him an edge over competitors across formats. His invigorating batting and fielding saw him return to T20Is after a two-year gap in August, and those very traits continue to reinforce Jadeja’s growing stature as a top-flight cricketer.
His ground fielding and catching, arguably the best in world cricket, gives him an added edge in whites. Ask Aiden Markram, who tried to loft a Jadeja delivery over the bowler’s head, only to see him pluck out a one-handed screamer in his follow through. It ended Markram’s 39-run resistance, showcasing another instance of Jadeja’s ability to conjure match-changing moments, quite literally, from thin air.
Amid all the brouhaha surrounding wrist-spinners and their domination over cricket, Jadeja’s finger spin, backed by his batting and fielding, has seen him re-establish his own brand in Tests. And with a pivotal role in India’s first win of this home season, he proved his worth, once again.