On a typical Indian wicket, Ravindra Jadeja can be good when the pitch isn't assisting spin, dangerous when it starts turning and virtually unplayable when it turns square.
Facing Jadeja on Indian soil can be more frustrating than forcefully watching an Indian daily soap opera at a relatives' house with a cricket match on simultaneously. Same line, same spot, stump to stump, no time to even blink an eye in between deliveries - rinse, repeat. When it's turning, the confusion adds to frustration and the slow poisoning finally brings about a batsman's downfall.
South Africa experienced this last year on the tour to India. Currently, New Zealand have started facing the effect. As Jadeja scythed through their middle and lower middle order on day three of the Kanpur Test, it sent a sound warning to the Kiwi camp. A warning about dangers of facing Jadeja on Indian pitches.
On day 2, the Saurashtra all-rounder bowled decently but wasn't threatening, he somehow didn't find his rhythm, there were loose deliveries which were punished by Williamson's excellent backfoot play. He bowled just one maiden through the day and conceded five boundaries. He was a tad unlucky too - he could have had the wicket of Tom Latham but for KL Rahul's helmet. He nearly had Kane Williamson but a close caught behind shout was turned down. However, for most part of the day, Williamson and Latham thwarted the spin threat with some clever rotation of strike and footwork. The Indian spinners weren't allowed to get into the groove. They were unsettled and that in turn affected their discipline. The combined figures of Indian spinners read - 31-2-90-0. Jadeja's figures read - 17-1-47-0. The day 2 pitch didn't assist much turn, there were just parts where the spinners troubled the batsmen in the last hour before rain interrupted play.
However, the tenth ball at the start of third day's play gave an indication of what was to come next. A full delivery from Jadeja zipped through and spun past Williamson's outside edge. A massive caught behind appeal was turned down. The pitch had started behaving differently and there was substantial turn on offer. Jadeja beat Williamson again, in his next over, this time with his flight and it turned out to be a maiden. On day 2, he had bowled just one maiden in his 17 overs. His second over of the day was a maiden. Both the spinners had built the pressure early on and Ashwin's astute change of lines to Latham reaped rich rewards as he trapped him LBW in the next over.
Jadeja, who had got into the groove, then unleashed a slider to send back Ross Taylor in the next over, trapping him leg before. While Ashwin kept the pressure going at one end, Jadeja varied his pace and length really well which was the highlight of his bowling. His deliveries zipped, turned and sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of the batsmen, who were resoundingly beaten most times when the ball whizzed past their outside edges. He made good use of the roughs developed outside off.
It seemed as if India had clawed back in the match when Ashwin sent back Williamson in the tenth over of the day. But Luke Ronchi and Mitchell Santner had then started to build on a partnership and it seemed as if they were following the Williamson-Latham path. Ronchi was aggressive and starting to look dangerous while Santner looked solid in his defense. The two had added 49 runs for the fifth wicket. India needed a wicket. Then came another variation from Jadeja as he switched from round to over the wicket to Ronchi.
The very first ball with a new angle fetched him a wicket as Ronchi missed his slog sweep and was trapped LBW. Replays showed it would have missed off, Ronchi was unlucky but India had broken the stand. It was crucial, a momentum-breaker and then Jadeja returned to turn it completely around with three wickets in an over after tea to decimate the Kiwis.
It all started with a ripper to Mark Craig, one that turned in sharply and before Craig could get his had forward, it had spun enough to hit his pad and pop to first slip. A stifled LBW appeal was turned down. The next one was quicker and a bit fuller, Craig was again beaten all ends up but this time it was right in front. Ish Sodhi walked back next ball when he missed a straighter one and two balls later, Jadeja had Boult caught at silly point to scalp his fifth Test five-wicket haul. A triple wicket maiden! Ashwin wrapped up the innings with the wicket of Watling. And From 255/5, Kiwis collapsed to 262 all out. Jadeja finished with figures of 34-7-73-5.
Jadeja had warmed up for the New Zealand series with two five-wicket hauls in the Duleep Trophy final against India Red and seemed to have carried forward the momentum. He has now taken 11 five-fors in his last 11 first-class games. The impressive part of Jadeja's five Test five-fors is that three of them have come in the first innings. Third day of a Test is where he is pretty ominous and ends up sealing the deal for India. He averages the best on day three of Tests in India with 10.40 and has his best strike rate - 31.13. 33.33 percent of the matches he has played have ended on day 3. Since his debut, he has the best average for any bowler at home in Tests with a minimum of 50 Test wickets - 15.60.
"I have been playing on these pitches for the last so many years. Since my Under-14, Under 16, Under 19 days, I have played on similar pitches, same conditions. We have also played on underprepared pitches so that gives you experience," Jadeja said after the day's play.
All this spell ominous signs for New Zealand going forward. This wasn't even the best of Jadeja on display. He was not unplayable and still the Kiwis succumbed to him. The pitch has still held up well but might start to crumble on day four and five. Jadeja in this form on a rank turner will in all probability be unplayable in the fourth innings. This was just a glimpse, it can be worse.
There is a deadly Ashwin-Jadeja-Kumble combo that the Black Caps have to tackle. Kumble has started playing a key role since his entry as India coach. "He (Kumble) asked me to bowl in rough areas and look for angles and bowling from wide off the crease. There were a lot of footmarks around the off stump area. He told me that those marks will have a bearing on the minds of the batsmen," Jadeja said after the day's play. This is wake-up call for the Kiwi batsmen, batting last on this wicket could be extremely difficult. They need to sort out their technique against the spinners, especially Jadeja, else this would prove to be another walkover for India at home.
With stat inputs from Umang Pabri