India’s two utility cricketers, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, came good particularly with the bat against New Zealand at Auckland on Saturday and in their contrasting methods, they have proved to be more than useful to the Indian team.
Indeed MS Dhoni is fortunate that he has two ubiquitous cricketers he can depend on to contribute with both bat and ball – a happy augury for Indian cricket.
Ashwin made his entry into international cricket as a bowler who could bat a bit. After all he had opened the innings in local cricket in Chennai and even had a first class century to his credit. But he exceeded expectations in his maiden Test series against the West Indies in 2011 by getting a hundred.
This followed a five-wicket haul in the first innings enabling him to join the ranks of all time greats Vinoo Mankad and Polly Umrigar as the only other Indians to have achieved this feat. That he was made for bigger things was proved when he hit a second hundred against the same opponents two years later.
In the meantime his bowling skills saw him become the fastest Indian to 100 Test wickets. In reaching it in his 19th game, he surpassed the legendary Erapalli Prasanna who took one more Test to reach the mark.
It was not just the figures that were impressive. His approach caught the eye for he was no ordinary late order batsman good enough for a few runs. He had the style and the strokes, the discipline and determination to play a fairly long innings and soon there was talk of promoting him in the batting order.
But the question remained as to how this could be done for the middle order slot had a 'housefull' board firmly slapped on it. Even after the retirement of the stalwarts, the young replacements proved to be good enough and with MS Dhoni coming in at No 7, Ashwin could only be accommodated at No 8.
But the feeling still remains whether Ashwin could be the side’s all rounder and pushed up to No 6 in the order. One is confident that he will pass the test should this happen for he has the technique and temperament to succeed.
The only danger is whether the greater emphasis on his batting will be an impediment to his bowling. We have seen this happen in the past. Greg Chappell’s unwise move to promote Irfan Pathan up the order to No 3 saw his batting improve but at the cost of his bowling which went into decline.
At that stage, Indian cricket needed Pathan the bowler much more than Pathan the batsman and his fall into oblivion can be traced to this needlessly employed tactic. I am also convinced that Harbhajan Singh’s form with the ball nosedived the moment he got successive hundreds in the Tests against New Zealand.
The maverick cricketer always talked about improving his batting and once he proved his point his bowling went into a steady decline.
Under the circumstances, I reckon it is better that Ashwin stays at No 8. He can be relied upon to bolster the late order batting in case of a collapse. But for all his impressive record in Tests, there was always the feeling that he had not done justice to his batting skills in ODIs.
A highest score of 38 after 72 ODIs was scant reward for Ashwin and it was heartening to see him come good at a crucial juncture at Auckland on Saturday. One can somehow see him add more than his mite even in limited overs cricket where of course he has to come in only at No 7 or No 8.
Ashwin’s case, however, is comparatively straightforward when compared to Jadeja’s. Here is a man who has notched up three triple hundreds in first class cricket. That alone would mean that he is a batsman first and foremost with his bowling being a sort of bonus. Seven hundreds in all and a first class average of almost 50 would appear to confirm this view.
At the international level, however, it is Jadeja’s bowling that has garnered attention with his batting being a bit disappointing. A haul of 33 wickets from just six Tests at an average of just under 21 allied to 113 wickets from 95 ODIs would at most certify him as a bowling all rounder.
However if his Test batting figures – a highest score of 43 from eight innings and an average of 15 – are well under par, he has come off now and then in ODIs where he has seven half centuries with a highest score of 78, an average of 31 and a strike rate of 81.
However, given his impressive first class stats as a batsman, more has been expected from Jadeja and it is to be hoped that his sterling knock at Auckland on Saturday will be a turning point for Jadeja has the ability to make it big with the bat.
He may lack Ashwin’s correct and traditional approach and his textbook strokes but he has the ability to play the big hits as the Kiwi bowlers discovered to their dismay. He virtually won the match for India from a hopeless situation and that is what he is capable of – being a match winner particularly in limited overs cricket.
Moreover, he can also be used as a dangerous floater in the batting order by being promoted if the situation so warrants.
In Tests, Ashwin, who has a batting average of almost 40, is clearly the more reliable. Both, however, can continue to contribute with the ball and the two are more than handy cricketers to have in the side whether it is Test matches or limited overs cricket.