India wait for Ravindra Jadeja to kick into high gear in T20 World Cup 2024 | Crickit
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India wait for Ravindra Jadeja to kick into high gear in T20 World Cup 2024

Jun 14, 2024 05:11 PM IST

He hasn't had many opportunities but India’s 3D player has scored no runs, picked up no wickets and taken no catches in the league stage

Mentions of #Rajputboy crop up on Ravindra Jadeja’s social media timelines from time to time. When he’s twirling his sword on the cricket field, Rajput boy Jadeja is in a good space but it’s been a while since he celebrated by twirling his bat like a sword in T20 cricket.

India's Ravindra Jadeja, left, walks off the field after losing his wicket against Pakistan(AP)
India's Ravindra Jadeja, left, walks off the field after losing his wicket against Pakistan(AP)

We know he doesn’t like his white-ball all-round prowess being questioned but on evidence of India’s three outings in the ongoing T20 World Cup, Jadeja will need to reaffirm his all-round status in the game’s youngest format. India’s true-blue 3D player has scored no runs, picked up no wickets and taken no catches in the league stage.

It’s true that India have played all their matches at New York where pacers have done four times more bowling and been five times more productive in wicket-taking than spinners. But the extent to which Jadeja has been underutilized all round – faced only one ball and bowled only three overs in 3 matches is rare.

Whether that points to the team management’s lack of faith in Jadeja’s abilities; if they have spotted a declining graph is difficult to say. What one has seen is Axar Patel, someone who has played his entire career under Jadeja’s shadow as his like-for-like become Rohit Sharma’s preferred option.

When it was time to push a southpaw up the order against Pakistan; Axar, not Jadeja, was the batter India went with. When it came to bowling the crucial 16th over against adverse match-up Imad Wasim, Axar not Jadeja was chosen. Axar stepped up well on both occasions. Jadeja did not bowl a single over in the previous match against USA while Axar bowled all three overs of spin in the innings.

Given his supreme fitness levels, it’s easy to forget Jadeja is 35. In the current Indian squad, only Rohit made his T20I debut before Jadeja. The Saurashtra all-rounder's batting SR of 125 is a jarring statistic but the ability to reinvent your game reduces later in your career.

There’s little to separate Axar and Jadeja – both left-arm spinners have average returns against left-handed batters and have a ceiling in ball-striking ability during the death overs. It’s in the middle overs that Axar’s batting (SR 142) is coming through nicely, encouraging the team management to use him as a floater. Axar was also the better bowler on view in this year’s IPL – taking 11 wickets at a marginally better economy rate to Jadeja's eight.

But the debate isn’t only about Axar versus Jadeja. As India advances to the Super 8 stage, spin will play a more prominent role in the West Indies. Invariably, left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav will come in the fray. Australia will be one of India’s three opponents where Kuldeep would be seen as the best match-up against David Warner and Travis Head. Bangladesh too have plenty of left-handers.

When, and not if, Kuldeep returns, will India be forced to choose between Axar and Jadeja? With captain Rohit sold on the idea of batting depth, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if pacer Mohammed Siraj makes way for the two left-arm spin twins to stay in the eleven.

“It's a long tournament. I think someone like Jadeja, who's so vastly experienced, just needs a game out there to just get his roots around and feel around. And we know that the skills that he has and the experience, he's going to go ahead and he's going to win your games,” Paras Mhambrey, Indian bowling coach said after the Pakistan match.

T20 is all about hyper-specialization. When the ball takes turn or the pitch offers grip, enough for the arm-ball to become a weapon, there’s no safer bet than Jadeja to flummox the batters. In fielding, he’s still the best.

Right through his career, Jadeja has channeled the bubbling angst inside him to his advantage. ‘Need new HATERS the old ones are starting to like me’, he once wrote on his social media page.

Who knows if he experiences such intense emotions anymore. If he does, he will let us all know. On big match days, cornered tigers roar the loudest.

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