Ravindra Jadeja's popularity becomes apparent the moment you land in Saurashtra and head to his hometown, Jamnagar. "Aapdo Jadeja? India star che!" (Our Jadeja? He is an India star) the autorickshaw driver in Rajkot declares. Everyone wants to talk cricket in Saurashtra, and about Jadeja. Playing in all three formats for India has raised his standing above teammate Cheteshwar Pujara."He is the biggest celebrity Saurashtra has. All of us know him. When he visits his family, he even goes out cycling. So what if he has a couple of bodyguards in tow?" laughs Deep Raiyani, a 20-year-old Jamnagar resident, on the bus to Jadeja's birthplace.
In the heart of Jamnagar lies an uneven ground with an old pavilion, the Cricket Bungalow. The Nawnagar Cricket Academy lacks funds to develop the ground, but it's a factory which also produced Jadeja. In one corner sits his mentor Mahendra Singh Chauhan.
Chauhan talks about his Revdee. "You see that wall? He would climb that to go to the first floor," he says, pointing out to the side of the pavilion. "It has no prominent foothold, but he would jump onto it in a couple of seconds. That flexibility helps him make acrobatic saves."
Slap someone on a cycle and run away, tease people on the streets or chase the ball to the boundary but sit in the shade without returning it - Jadeja was all about monkeying around. A reprimand could never be far away. "I would slap him, what if he fell and got injured?" Chauhan asks. His late mother Lataben had given him the responsibility of keeping her son on the right path. "She wanted me to make him a good person first," smiles the 52-year-old.
Jadeja's father Anirudhsinh worked in a private security firm and the family was hard-pressed for money. But Chauhan provides free coaching. "There was no talent to start with when his father got Revdee, then eight, to me. But his enthusiasm was second to none. He wanted to run, bat, bowl and field more than the rest, even after everyone was done."
He recalls: "He wanted to be a fast bowler, but never had the height. On my suggestion, he immediately changed to spin. Since he only bowled flat, I would ask a boy to stand in front of him to help get the loop, and place a slipper for him to hit a spot consistently."
When he was in the eighth grade, Jadeja switched school for the third time as cricket was not a priority in the earlier institutions. But the frequent shifts prompted the new school, DDC, to ask why they should take him. "Mahendra Singhji shot back saying 'this boy will play a lot for India, you don't want to lose out on someone like him'," recalls Chetan Monani, who was sports teacher at DDC then. "Today, we are proud we gave in."
Chauhan adds: "He was made captain of his school team, and thereafter, he excelled at every level."
Not far from the Cricket Bungalow is Jadeja's apartment in the posh Joggers' Park colony, but his father stays at the farmhouse, 30 km from Jamnagar. One sister, Padmini (28), is studying while the eldest, Naina (30), runs Jaddu's Food Field, the cricket-themed restaurant in Rajkot.
Recalls Naina: "His friends never used to let him bat or bowl and he would come home crying. That is when we took him to Mahendra sir." And how does Jadeja, the military officer, sound? "Mom and dad enrolled him in Sainik school because they wanted him to join the army. But he would talk cricket even in sleep and spend the whole day, apart from school hours, at the Cricket Bungalow," she smiles.
The mood changes the moment the topic of their mother's death comes up. "He was around 19, and couldn't accept it. It affected his cricket. Since that day, I'm his mother and best friend," says Naina. Having lost his mother, the U-19 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur in 2008 was upon him. "I forced him to focus only on winning. He did just that and that is where he was noticed."
There was no looking back, the T20I debut the next year, praise for 'the rockstar' from his Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne and becoming the most expensive IPL player, purchased for $2 million by CSK at the 2012 auction, following one after the other.