Energy, Pedigree, Numbers: Why Ravindra Jadeja, the Test player, gets picked ahead of R Ashwin
Virat Kohli was restless in the slips, he asked Shami to push a little deeper at mid off, and then quietly called him back to his original position. He crossed his hands behind his back and was looking all around the ground - the sun was baking down and Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase were grinding his bowlers down. He started to clap, and let out a few vocals - Brooks did not look at him, instead, he planted the front foot and tapped a length ball from Jasprit Bumrah back down the pitch. The ball did land on a seam and yet it hit Brooks’ bat after following a dead straight line. This was when Kohli had a grimace, he took the ball from Bumrah and hurled it to Ravindra Jadeja, who was loitering somewhere near cover and point.
Jadeja tipped R Ashwin to get the nod as India’s primary spinner in the two Test matches in this tour. Yes, few eyebrows were furrowed and yes, few nuggets of wisdom were passed, but Kohli trusted Jadeja - and this trust goes beyond the skill sets of the man.
“He lifts the energy levels on the field. He rubs on the energy to his teammates, and he’s the man you need on the field when the chips are down,” Kohli had said back in Australia.
Anyway, in Jamaica, when the game was vividly meandering along and when, for the first time, the pacers were looking toothless, Kohli needed more than just exuberant energy from Jadeja. The pitch had few spots which were exciting for a spinner, but they were largely that - confined to few spots. Jadeja, who wheels away back home on surfaces with far more assistance, was made to wait. If one puts a handkerchief on a length and asks him to paint it red, Jadeja will do exactly that - such is his relentlessness. And for Jadeja and for Kohli, this wait was not too extended.
He landed the ball on a length, Brooks was camped on his backfoot, the ball turned, it bounced a bit more than expected, glanced the shoulder of the bat and went straight to Ajinkya Rahane. The bowler ran to the captain, the captain ran to the fielders and the umpire ran to the batsman - he asked him to wait. Jadeja had overstepped, so Brooks took guard again. Not for long though, the same sequence of events followed and this time, Brooks was plucked out.
This is what Jadeja does, he is relentless, he is accurate and he suffocates the batsmen. One ball will bounce, kick and jump and he will slice through the order. Kohli knows all about this: “It’s the control we can bank on with Jadeja. He’s probably been our most consistent and accurate bowler away from India. That’s the reason he’s constantly playing in the eleven because he gives you control even when the wicket is not supporting his bowling.”
So is Ashwin not good enough to do all these things?
Ashwin is, he is very very good. He is India’s premier spinner, the fastest to all several milestones, but when we scratch the surface, there are bare numbers - and Kohli, for all his bravado does not look at numbers and susses situations accordingly.
Since January 2017, Ravindra Jadeja has managed to peel off 712 runs at 44.50 in 18 games. This average is further bolstered when India play away from home - it reads 49.85 in seven games. And as he showed in Antigua, these runs might not be pretty, but they sure are gritty. India were 189/6, when Jadeja walked in and scored a half century. People might not talk about his numbers from the series, but ask Kohli and ask the Indian seamers and the lower order batsmen - they will be willing to twirl that sword along with Jadeja. And if it does bolster his case any further, his bowling average reads 30.75. He took seven wickets at The Oval, and then a five-wicket haul at the MCG. He also scored 86 at The Oval and 81 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. And all this while, he kept hurtling after the balls in the outfield, kept hurling the ball in from the boundary ropes and kept clapping vociferously to keep the morale of the team upbeat.
We now look at Ashwin at exactly during the same time frame - he scored 545 runs in 21 games at an average of 18.75. Let’s now narrow it down to India’s last seven overseas games - 24 wickets, an average of 30.16. Also, his bowling average in overseas conditions since January 2017 is 28.39. Impressive numbers, most certainly, but when their batting numbers are pitted against each other and when their prowess in the field is factored in - Ashwin’s groin has not been on best terms with him, can anyone blame Kohli for taking Jadeja along with him?
“You have to see what he brings to the table. He’s arguably the best fielder in the world now. He’s improved his batting like hell. And if you see these tracks, I don’t think there will be much on offer for the spinner, so you would need control,” said Ravi Shastri.
There is criticism hurled at Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri - the coach has been labeled a “yes-man”; the captain, of course, has denied these charges. But when both them nod in unison and speak about the worth of Jadeja, and when numbers too nod along, what else is left to say?