As a player who thrives on challenges, Ravindra Jadeja has never been perturbed by any backlash. Instead, he has taken it in his stride and barged ahead. It is for this reason that the 29 year old all-rounder has been the soul of India’s recent success.
It was the English summer of 2009. The ‘home of cricket’ was coming to terms with its briefest slam-bang version as the world was gripped by the T-20 World Cup. India had just lost against the West Indies and MS Dhoni was trying to duck the bouncers of Indian Journalists. The Indian media was savouring its dinner; their favourite munch then being the captain and a 21 year-old youngster called Ravindra Jadeja. In those early days, Jadeja was blatantly touted as a utility player – proving only useful for that ability to bat and deliver some tidy overs.
It wasn’t like the world came and fell at Jadeja’s feet.
Three and half years hence, he played his maiden test in December 2012 against Alistair Cook’s men by riding on the back of some sensational performances in domestic games. He would finish with a glorious 117-3 in the sleeping beauty of Nagpur. The media was at it again, calling Jadeja a wondrous talent perhaps still not suited to succeed at international level.
Two months later, the inexplicable happened. Well, at least, where the media was concerned.
Jadeja defied all expectations as he turned the heat on Michael Clarke’s men with an astonishing 24 wicket haul in 4 Test series. Despite his success, he wasn’t India’s number one choice and was only selected on an away tour when Ashwin failed to replicate his magic abroad.
Though he began well at Johannesburg with a 154-6, displaying his ability to sting rolling his arm over, his performance suddenly declined during the next few assignments. It was sudden. Did Jadeja see it coming, one isn’t sure. Soon after, he found himself delisted having conceded 57 runs per wicket. His stack? Merely 12. The media that boasted he was merely a domestic cricket candidate were chuffed.
But perhaps languishing under pressure doesn’t quite sum up the Jadeja DNA
An year later, in 2015, he returned against South Africa. All eyes were fixed on him. Not transfixed but glaring with doubt. But in that little period of India resorting yet again to a new talent, its faith would be rewarded.
Since then, Jadeja has gone on to become India’s No. 2 spinner. Today, you cannot not imagine Ashwin and Jadeja attacking in tandem. Since the 2015 home season, Jadeja has scalped 113 wickets, playing 22 tests. Moreover, to those who were keen to befall him- he’s struck regularly at an astonishing average of 20.84.
For a side so mightily balancing its weight on batsmen, Jadeja’s all round skills make India’s cricket a level-playing field. His batting would soon add a new dimension to India’s lower order.
Where resistance is needed, Jadeja is looked up to
Despite a glittering share of triumphs earned against noted sides- New Zealand and Australia- against whom India has enjoyed repeated successes, the lower order is often prone to collapses.
But Jadeja’s blunt blade and obdurate defences have often cut short India’s misery; the leftie collecting 803 runs at an average of 35 from the onset of 2016.
His vital knocks of 42 and 50- both unbeaten knocks against the Kiwis and a crucial fifty versus Australia at Dharamshala gave India the upper-hand in the series’ decider.
But when seen from the perspective of his glaring critics, Jadeja’s impact seems all the more enormous.
In 2013, Dhoni entitled his prudent all-rounder as “Sir” Jadeja. Along came a bandwagon of trolls; some in an exaggerated praise, but most disguised as mockery.
But it didn’t seem to matter to their subject for Jadeja carried on.
It wasn’t uncommon to see the camaraderie Jadeja shared with MS during the halcyon days of CSK bettered his game.
In 2014, in the wake of the Test sides’ expansion, Jadeja was cast-off but he didn’t lose heart. As with any contestant undeterred by grind, Jadeja doubled his efforts.
It must be asked if those who saw him in early days thought he would come so far?
In picking six consecutive five-for’s (not to forget he was already a part of an elite club of batsmen with two triple centuries in domestic cricket in India)- he was back. With a bang.
Today, you ignore a Jadeja at your own peril
His game isn’t about whacked out hits and mind-numbing blows. He rotates the strike, is an agile fielder; nearly unstoppable, never complaining of throwing himself behind the ball.
Few have made it work out of sheer grit other than Jadeja. One can perhaps only think of a Dravid. But then was he an all rounder?
During his exile, Jadeja learned to introduce variety in his bowling and also understood the importance of bowling wicket-taking deliveries rather than just limiting scoring opportunities. Where batting was concerned, he bolstered his defence and endured on the 22 yards.
The Nagpur contest will be Test number 34. To this day, he’s taken 158 wickets with a stunning average of 23.55. Add an additional 1167 runs at 30 and you have solved the complex riddle of India’s elusive all rounder.
It is undeniable that he still needs to up his ante on the away tours. There are a considerable number when you count the next 15 months; South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand.
However, those who know Jadeja would be aware of is ability to swim against the tide. While there’ll be a mountain of expectations, it won’t be utterly surprising to see ‘Sir’ Jadeja holding fort amidst the toughest of conditions or asks.