Playing his first Test of the year on foreign soil, Ravindra Jadeja made it amply clear on day two at the Oval about his targets – to get back in the playing eleven on a permanent basis and to claim the all-rounder slot.
It is easier said than done, of course. Picking up wickets on a spin-friendly wicket was the simpler task, particularly seeing that R Ashwin is out injured and Jadeja is playing as the lone spinner. He is the go-to guy, the one who bowls most overs, given that Hardik Pandya is sitting out this match. No, those four wickets weren’t conceded simply, but it would have been surprising for the left-arm spinner to not take these many. The second innings was a more workman-like experience for Jadeja. He bowled 47 overs, added three wickets to his tally – a match-haul of seven wickets – but Alastair Cook and Joe Root batted India out of the game. Even so, at the end of this English innings, there were questions of what might have been had Jadeja played in Southampton, where India needed a second spinner, or at Lord’s, where they opted to play Kuldeep Yadav, the wrong choice.
With an all-round performance, Jadeja has made a case for himself going ahead, and the discernable difference he made was in India’s lower-order batting. Throughout this series, India have struggled with their lower-order, especially the lack of runs from numbers six to eight batsmen. Hardik Pandya (164 runs in 4 Tests), Dinesh Karthik (21 runs in 2 Tests), Rishabh Pant (48 runs in 5 innings) and R Ashwin (126 runs in 4 Tests), all have failed to guide the tailenders and put in sizeable contributions. Compare that to what Jos Buttler has done in the company of Sam Curran, Adil Rashid and James Anderson, and the reason becomes crystal clear why England lead this series 3-1.
Jadeja changed that narrative on Sunday, when he put on 77 runs for the seventh wicket with debutant Hanuma Vihari (who scored 56 in his maiden Test innings) and another 32 runs for the tenth wicket with Jasprit Bumrah. Only on Saturday, Bumrah had spoken about one main batsman holding one end together and along with tailenders, putting on a decent fight.
Twirling his sword after scoring his ninth Test half-century, Jadeja seemed like a warrior who had been rested for most important duels this year. Now, as back-up, he was back doing what he does best, what he knows best, never mind that the conditions haven’t been conducive for the likes of him to bat and score enough runs.
Throughout his career, Jadeja has fought against the norm, becoming a spinner who can bat from the fledgling bowler that first appeared on international scene. The ability has always been there, even if it has confounded critics and fans altogether. The difference now though is in maturity, considering his recent spate of knocks. As he scored his highest score on foreign soil, let us take a look back at some of his other fine innings.
Lord’s, 2014: A 57-ball 68 has to be the best knock Jadeja ever played. It was more important than the one in current context, simply because the series was alive then. It helped India set a 319-run target, and the attacking nature of his knock was a stern reply to James Anderson, with whom he had clashed in the first Test at Nottingham. Not only did his innings set up India’s eventual first win at Lord’s since 1986, it helped them take a 1-0 lead. Yes, England still won 3-1, but the trust and faith MS Dhoni had shown in Jadeja in picking him ahead of Ashwin as the lone spinner was proven right.
Kanpur and Mohali, 2016: Two half-centuries against New Zealand and England highlighted Jadeja’s progress as a batsman. The first knock (50* at Kanpur versus New Zealand) was nearly a gift from skipper Virat Kohli, as he wanted to help Jadeja discover the batsman against him. It was a confidence-booster, to go out and play, and prepare for tougher tests ahead as both England and Australia were going to tour India later that home season. And Kohli’s decision to delay the declaration paid off well.
Against England at Mohali, Jadeja notched up his highest Test score of 90 as he rescued India from 204-6. The hosts weren’t making count the opportunity to bat England out of the game, and Jadeja sent a timely reminder just why he is good at batting on slow, low turners of the sub-continent. His knock, in partnership with Ashwin and later the tailenders, turned advantage in India’s favour as they eventually took an unassailable 2-0 series’ lead in that Test.
Dharamsala, 2017: Perhaps his most impact-worthy knock on home soil came against Australia in the final Test of the 2016-17 season. Led by the indomitable Steve Smith, the Aussies showed a lot more fight than New Zealand and England before them and the series went into the fourth Test still alive at 1-1. India were missing Kohli in that deciding game, and were behind the curve. Jadeja chose an apt moment to repay the team management’s faith, scoring 63 runs when the score read 221-6. Batting with Wriddhiman Saha, he gave India a 32-run lead, hitting four sixes. It was enough to push Australia into submission.
Auckland, 2014: Jadeja isn’t only a Test player, for his worth was first realized in the short-ball formats. Indian cricket can thank Shane Warne for discovering his talent and backing him to the hilt at Rajasthan Royals, and then Dhoni who found an apt role for him at Chennai Super Kings. It helped him become one of the vital cogs in India’s ODI side for the 2015 World Cup, as they prepared in New Zealand a season earlier.
Thanks to Jadeja in the line-up, India could play with five bowlers in ODI cricket. While that did jeopardize the batting to an extent, Dhoni trusted Jadeja to score runs when it mattered. It did in Auckland on that tour, when India were struggling in the 315-run chase. They were already 2-0 down in the series, when Jadeja, scoring 66 off 45 balls, launched a counter-attack along with Ashwin to help tie that game.
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