Ravindra Jadeja (L) and Ravichandran Ashwin (R) walk off the ground after scoring the winning runs during the match against Sri Lanka at the WACA ground in Perth. AFP Photo/Tony Ashby
Thanks to the IPL auctions, Ravinder Jadeja has become the latest million-dollar baby of Indian cricket. Teams fought with each other to procure his services for the fifth edition of the IPL and, eventually, the Chennai Super Kings outbid the rest in a secret ballot.
Life seems to have come a full circle for Jadeja - not too long ago, he was crucified for his inability to hit sixes while batting lower down the order, which eventually led to his exclusion from the side. The fact that he was contributing with the ball and also in the field didn't matter much. Team India had found a better player in Yusuf Pathan, who then replaced him in the World Cup.
Jadeja had to reinvent his batting and discover the fifth gear. He did that and a lot more in the fourth edition of the IPL. His success and, perhaps, more importantly, his newfound ability to hit sixes got him back into the Indian team.
Jadeja, as a cricketer, has now entered the second phase of his career. Since he's been a regular in the side for a while, it's time he assumed a bigger role. Precisely why, this ongoing tour to Australia is his litmus test. Besides hitting the long ball, the other criticism Jadeja faced early on was his inability to handle short-pitched stuff and quality fast bowling.
He may have silenced his critics about his six-hitting ability, but the final verdict on the latter is yet to come out. Conceivably then, this tour ought to be the clincher --- there have been a few occasions when the top order faltered and he was required to do the repair job. So far, he hasn't shown signs of constructing a big innings and hence must turn this around soon.
Also, one would have thought that skipper Dhoni might be tempted to promote him as a pinch-hitter to capitalise on the power-play overs. But he has failed to instil the belief that merits a promotion.
Even his bowling, which is tailor-made for dusty surfaces in the subcontinent, has been put to stern test. Jadeja has the knack of bowling quicker and flatter in the air, extracting something from dry surfaces. The lack of bounce also works as an ally to keep the batsman quiet. But the surfaces in Australia aren't offering Jadeja any assistance, until of course, he varies his pace and flight judiciously.
Also, the even bounce seemed to be working against him, for it's always easier to play horizontal bat shots when the bounce is true. It's also easier to get under the ball to find the aerial route.
He's one of the most improved cricketers in the recent past. But, he must pass this crucial test Down Under to be a part of India's scheme of things for the next World Cup, which, as luck would have it, slated to happen in Australia, in 2015.