He is humorous and unguarded in press conferences. He knows how to pick wickets on slow tracks by getting on the nerves of batsmen. His batting more often than not bails India out of trouble. He is Ravindra Jadeja.
And after his role in India’s win over New Zealand in the Kanpur Test , he’s going to be a part of India’s plans for a long time to come.
With India scheduled to play 13 Tests at home, India skipper Virat Kohli doesn’t have to run his vision beyond the Saurashtra all-rounder to cap off a fantastic season. In India and the subcontinent, Jadeja is a bit of an enigma. Let alone the batsmen, Jadeja admits he himself is clueless about his deliveries while landing them on a cracked pitch.
Jadeja’s success has changed the dynamics of traditional cricket.
Although he hasn’t enjoyed much success abroad, Jadeja has been a vital cog in both MS Dhoni’s and Kohli’s line-up. Dhoni preferred Jadeja over Ojha for he knew that in situations when traditional spinners couldn’t find a wicket, Jadeja’s quick, accurate and relentless deliveries would end up providing an important breakthrough. Even if he went for runs in the process, it didn’t matter.
The evidence of this came last year against South Africa, who toured India for almost two-and-a-half months. On pitches where the ball exploded off the surface and broke viciously, Jadeja succeeded because of his deadly accuracy. While Mohali and Nagpur were minefields, surfaces where Jadeja would love to bowl all his life, the left-arm spinner showed that he could deliver even at Feroz Shah Kotla, where the ball turned occasionally and slow.
Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers were involved in a blockathon and nearly succeeded in saving the final Test, which was the only one of the series that went to a fifth day. But Jadeja won the game of patience, bowling the majority of overs like an untiring machine, and provided India with two crucial breakthroughs to win the Test. Jadeja ended up picking 23 wickets in four matches alongside Ravichandran Ashwin, who collected 31 wickets.
In 2013, Dhoni used Jadeja better than Ojha at Kotla against Australia. In the 29 overs he had bowled, he picked the crucial scalps of Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell, who were foxed failing to pick Jadeja’s mysteries in the first innings. As the pitch got worse, Jadeja darted in the stumps and waited for the surface to play its part. It did and Jadeja bagged a five-for.
As opposed to a traditional left-arm spinner who looks to collect wickets by turning the ball, bringing his slip cordon into play, Jadeja believes in trapping the batsmen and often finding a gap in their technique. Against Australia, Jadeja had bowled three and trapped two.
“He (Anil Kumble) told me to go wide on the crease and bowl around the sixth stump for the left-hand batsmen because there was rough there. He told me to target putting as many balls as possible in that rough because from there, some balls were turning and some were going straight. That would have created doubts in the batsmen’s minds, so that’s what we spoke of,” Jadeja said at Kanpur.
At Kanpur, Jadeja picked up six wickets in the match and four of them were LBWs, which goes on to show that his focus is to hit the pads of the opposition. He is smart in his approach too. He finished an over in less than two minutes and kept firing in quick arm deliveries, which turn occasionally to raise a doubt in the batsmen’s mind.
“Ashwin and I spoke of bowling at the stumps. Adjust our lines so that after the turn the ball ends up on the stumps. We knew we’ll get maximum chances if we kept the threat of lbw or bowled alive,” Jadeja said at Kanpur.
Even when Kane Williamson and Tom Latham were building a stand, Jadeja varied his angle but kept bowling at a similar pace. As the pitch deteriorated, his deliveries exploded, jumped and skidded to finish the Kiwi batting line-up. On the fourth day, he didn’t even keep a point fielder against the Kiwis and urged them to try the cut shot against square turn.
“Ab turning track pe ek partnership hoti hai. Uske baad naya batsman koi bhi jayega, uske liye itna footmarks dekh ke udhar unki…(There will be one partnership on a turning track. After that when the next batsman comes in, seeing the footmarks made by the bowlers, they will get..nervous)” Jadeja said during the presser, stopping himself before he could utter a common Hindi phrase.
Former Black Caps batsman and current batting coach Craig McMillan said, “It’s hard to pick it out of the hand when he bowls so quick, and he bowls such a consistent line and length, which offers a lot of challenges.”
While Jadeja is lethal on Indian pitches, the challenge that still remains is to become a better bowler abroad. For that, what he does in India might help him a little but adding spin could make him better. On flat pitches in India, he gets hit for runs, as evidenced by his struggles in this year’s IPL.
Contributions with the bat
As a batsman, Jadeja is changing the mindset of bowling all-rounders. His contributions last year and now at Kanpur have been vital for India’s success. In the first innings at Kanpur, the Indians struggled against spin but Jadeja came with a positive mindset and got quick runs.
He followed a similar approach against South Africa, flaying the bowlers to ensure safety. And it isn’t rash batting, but calculated risks and clean hitting that make Jadeja’s wicket difficult to get. Earlier, the aim of the lower order was to spend time in the middle but with Jadeja, that time spent means dominating bowlers. This attitude may be an aberration but it has helped India a lot.
He remained unbeaten in both innings and played with a strike rate of 95 and 86 to help Kohli make a quick decision on the declaration. Jadeja’s image at Saurashtra is of a proper all-rounder who can bat and pick wickets. His triple centuries for Saurashtra on turning wickets boosted the team last season. Cheteshwar Pujara has been their mainstay but Jadeja too has come up well and takes batting seriously.
Such an approach is changing the mindset of bowlers worldwide. The biggest example could be Kiwi spinner Mitchell Santner. He played his role well at Kanpur but also showed that he could be a capable batter at the lower order. His contributions of 71 and 32 show that he could be groomed like Jadeja. Though as spinners both have different styles and variations, they played similar roles for their respective sides.