Jadeja is back on song when it was needed……
The last time Ravindra Jadeja took a wicket in ODI cricket, in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy at The Oval, he picked up a solitary wicket – that of Shakib-al-Hasan – and went for 48 in his quota of overs. On paper, it sounds like a very average performance which does not deserve to be ridiculed.
But the fact is Jadeja has been rather mediocre since the 2015 World Cup and perhaps the eventual dumping came a tad too late. In 17 ODIs until yesterday from the World Cup in 2015, Jadeja picked up 12 wickets at an average of 67.83.
The finals of the Champions Trophy saw him being charged around the park for 67 in 8 overs with the Pakistani batsmen taking full toll of his zippy pace and lack of variations. It should have proved to be the final nail in the coffin but instead, a couple more chances materialised against West Indies after the Champions Trophy and despite doing well there, it was clear the management was looking to move on.
Since then it had been a story of the spin twins and their mind-blowing performances much akin to a tag team championship in wrestling. The attacking option the two were, India used the spinners to buy wickets much like in Tests, where Jadeja and his trusted partner, Ravichandran Ashwin, continued to rule.
Such was Kuldeep and Chahal’s influence that the even when Jadeja managed to squeeze back into the squad for the home series against Australia at the expense of an injured Axar Patel, he did not get a game. Perhaps it was telling that the man who replaced him in the squad – Axar – had very average figures too – 10 wickets in 8 matches since Jadeja’s last ODI before this at an average of 35.20.
This time, though, it was different. With a World Cup looming and Chahal starting to leak a few runs in the last two ODI series’, the management wanted to restrict the run flow a touch, add an all-round option and bring some experience to the side. The only player who offered all three and brought in a real difference in the fielding department was Ravindra Jadeja.
A comeback was perhaps inevitable for Jadeja. He was always tailor-made for limited-overs cricket and if he could brush up his skills with the bat, the spinner could be certain the selectors would come knocking. In this context, his half-century and nine wicket-haul in the Oval Test (incidentally the venue where he was thrashed by the Pakistanis in the Champions Trophy final) was perhaps quintessential for Jadeja.
It turned heads and created some support for him, even if only in some quarters. When Axar Patel was out injured yet again, this time in the Asia Cup, rumours were strife that Jadeja was ahead of Krunal Pandya in the pecking order. But his induction into the starting XI would perhaps have never materialized without an injury to Hardik Pandya as well.
That he was up against a Bangladesh side still scarring from the wounds inflicted by Rashid Khan and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman a day ago, worked in Jadeja’s favour. But it was a memorable, even tense, occasion for Jadeja. “I will always remember this comeback because I returned to the team after a gap of around 480 days,” he said after the match.
The wicket was slow but Jadeja was a skiddy customer who, according to a few critics, had just two variations – an arm ball and an orthodox left-arm spinner’s delivery. What he did and what many of his competitors don’t have is an experience. This showed in his bowling and even more matured talk after the performance.
“On a slow wicket, you have to bowl with more of your own effort. On a normal wicket, the ball goes through quickly after bouncing so it doesn’t give the batsman as much time. But on a slow wicket you have to bowl with more effort,” said Jadeja.
He started off with two boundary balls against Shakib, forcing many on social media to immediately write him off. With odds stacked against him, Jadeja needed a stroke of luck and it came in the form of a reckless shot from Shakib-al-Hasan, the most experienced in the Bangladesh side.
In cricket, a commonly mentioned quip is, “one often brings many”. It held true for Jadeja who was a completely different bowler after the dismissal of Shakib. He sent down a two-run over against Mushfiqur Rahim and Mohammad Mithun, the duo who had played the firefighting role to perfection in the opening match of the tournament against Sri Lanka.
The drinks break soon after rejuvenated Jadeja and he returned to send back Mithun in the first over after the break, playing tricks with his mind and trapping him in front with a customary arm ball. Next over, Rahim contributed to the misery with a heedless reverse sweep. By now Jadeja was in his stride and he added one more to his kitty to finish with tidy figures of 4/29 in his quota of overs.
It might be too far-fetched to say Jadeja has sealed his World Cup spot with this show for he had always been an effective bowler in the sub-continent. It is how he performs on greener tops that the selectors and management will watch with keen eyes.
But one can hope and Jadeja is certainly not ruling out the possibility.
“The World Cup is still some time away, we’re going to play a lot of matches before that, and I can’t comment on that yet. My ambition is to perform the way I did today whenever I get the opportunity.”
If he can chip in with the bat as well, India with limited options in the all-round department will be interested to take Jadeja to another multi-nation tournament next year. There are a lot of IFs on the way but the first step has turned into a giant leap for the Saurashtra spinner. Don’t rule him out yet!