“If just bowl a few overs at the nets before a game. If I throw in more deliveries and try to become a bowler, I will lose my touch.”
A huge roar of laughter followed Kedar Jadhav’s comments in the post-match press conference after he had emerged as the unlikely hero for India in the crucial clash against Pakistan. The uproar was not because the 33-year-old had cracked a witty comment or because he was trying to be humble about the 3 crucial scalps that he had earned in the match. It was rather a creative way to state that his successes with the ball have very little to do with technical nuances. By sticking to bowling a wicket-to-wicket line, Jadhav has achieved unprecedented success as a bowler and even though he is termed an off-spinner, he is rather known for bowling straight deliveries that create no width or angle for the batsman.
The player has a short run-up; after walking a few steps he pauses to think of the delivery that he should bowl and then he bowls an over-arm delivery or a slinging round-arm ball. By hardly offering any turn, he keeps the batsmen guessing – they expect a ball that will spin either way and align themselves accordingly, but with the ball going down as straight as possible, the outside edge is beaten on most occasions. With even the likes of MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh publicly stating that they have no idea how the cricketer has taken 19 wickets in 41 matches to date, the sense of mystery around him and his bowling remains intact.
His initiation into bowling came way back st Dharmshala in 2016, when then-skipper Dhoni and then-coach Anil Kumble decided to push Jadhav to bowl a few deliveries to ease the pressure out on Hardik Pandya, India’s fifth bowler in ODIs.
“It is important that someone in the top 5-6 gives you some overs so that there’s no pressure on Hardik to complete his 10”, Dhoni had stated after the game against New Zealand, where Jadhav sent down 3 overs for 2 wickets. That was the birth of Jadhav the bowler, and since then, he has been handling his job with responsibility, sharing the fifth bowler’s role with Pandya whilst also allowing the Indian team to stick to their preferred combination of four front-line bowlers and six batsmen with an all-rounder in Pandya.
However, with the Baroda player averaging almost 41 with the ball in 42 games, the pressure to bowl the unerring lines had increased manifold on the other bowlers in the Indian side. With Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal conceding a few runs in their quest for wickets, Pandya’s economy rate of 5.55 did the team no good and often the skipper had to turn to other viable options to complete the quota of 10 overs. In fact, even Virat Kohli bowled a few overs against Sri Lanka at The Oval last year after a gap of more than 18 months when Pandya had spewed over 6 runs an over with the ball.
The 25-year-old has bowled 10 overs in an ODI only 11 times since he made his debut. The last instance he bowled all 10 overs in a match – the second ODI against England at London earlier this year – he gave away 70 runs, and with Siddarth Kaul giving away 7.37 runs in his 8 overs as well in the game, the Indians were left helpless. Kohli had to turn to Suresh Raina in the absence of Jadhav, who missed the tour due to an injury, but with Raina not in the midst of a national selection currently, it was imperative that one among the top 6 batsmen contributes 4-5 overs in a game. This is where Jadhav has mightily impressed.
However, a pressure of a different kind invaded him when Pandya was stretched out of the game against Pakistan after bowling just 4.5 overs. Jadhav, who had kept things tight in the clash with Hong Kong had to take on the lion’s share of the responsibility in the middle overs, while also ensuring that the opposition was not let off the hook. The captain Rohit Sharma would have expected him to bowl at least 5 overs, but what transpired next was something unexpected though largely pleasing.
The player bowled 9 overs on the trot – only once before had he bowled as many or more overs in an ODI – conceding 23 runs for 3 wickets. He bowled his overs on the trot, with 34 dots in his spell and he did more than enough to cripple the Men in Green from building a foundation and flourishing at the end. By not complicating matters and by just bowling a wicket-to-wicket line in the bid to control the flow of runs, the batsmen are often trying hard to manoeuvre his seemingly easy overs but the lack of width of angles led to their downfall.
And that is exactly what Jadhav yearns for as well. “My bowling is all about trying to read the batsman, My plan is to bowl stump to stump, if you score, it’s fine but if you miss, wickets are there for me.”
In 42 ODIs so far, Jadhav has also batted with maturity – scoring at an average of 41.30 and a strike-rate of 108.82. Yes, there will be occasions when the opponents will succeed in reading him, but by sticking to the basics, Jadhav has ensured that he could be an answer not only to India’s middle order woes, but also to their search for that sixth bowler who could win games with both bat and ball consistently.