Ravindra Jadeja’s approach to cricket is quite uncomplicated, almost minimalistic. When he had to wait for 23 overs in the second innings to take his first wicket, the look on his face was more of relief than excitement. He knows he is expected to do a job for his captain in the final innings, and he was making the team wait. Meanwhile, he wasn’t trying anything flashy besides looking for a fuller length to get that outside edge.
Two of Jadeja’s biggest strengths are his fitness and an awareness of his limitations. More often than not, the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful, albeit equally-talented athlete is this awareness of one's limitations.
Jadeja’s fitness allows him to execute his attritional game plan to perfection. He can toil away when things are not going his way. A lot of the times we talk about the level of fitness required for bowling fast, but spinners can’t succeed if they don’t have the stamina to keep their intensity in a long spell. It won’t be a bad analogy to equate fast bowlers with sprinters and spinners with long-distance runners.
On the fourth morning of the Test match, the Indian team was looking more keenly at the pitch than the batsmen at the other end. The slowness in the track meant the nightwatchman Malinda Pushpakumara was able to negotiate the first half an hour without much trouble.
On a track with slow turn, India relies on Jadeja even more than usual because of the pace at which he bowls. After Pushpakumara was dismissed — more so due to the monsters in his own head — India and Jadeja sniffed blood with a nervy Chandimal at the crease. It’s always hard for a new man to face Jadeja first up because he will always be at the batsman. An examination by minimalism is often hardest to face when you aren’t feeling settled. A full-length delivery bowled at a decent pace accounted for Chandimal and a puff of dust from the pitch sent a few alarms to the Sri Lankan dressing room.
Karunaratne was still putting up a fight, using his reach to negotiate the spinners for more than 300 deliveries. On a pitch with natural variations, Jadeja’s deliveries can do tricks with gravity. This one seemed to pitch on a good length on Earth, and jumped up higher than usual — almost as if it were on the Moon — to find Karunaratne’s gloves and lob to Rahane at slips. If Chandimal’s dismissal was a warning, Karunaratne’s departure and his mode of dismissal were a premonition for the Sri Lankan batsmen.
The final frontier of resistance was broken when Angelo Mathews was caught behind by Wriddhiman Saha. Mathews found some room to play the cut shot but this one bounced a lot higher than he expected and was flying away off the outside edge when Saha managed to raise his gloves with the ball all the way till his shoulders. Kohli has often hailed Saha as the best gloveman in the world, and this catch served as solid evidence.
With Sri Lanka’s middle order already accounted for, Dilruwan Perera decided to throw caution to the wind. He stepped down early enough to allow Jadeja to shorten his length and rip one way past his outside edge letting clinical Saha do the rest.
For his fifth, Jadeja went back to his classic quick dart that angled in and turned and bounced to take the outside edge giving Rahane another low catch. ‘Caught Rahane bowled Jadeja’ has the potential to become ‘caught Dravid bowled Kumble’ in years to come.
In his post-match statements, Kohli paid tribute to the “rare” abilities of Jadeja and his contribution towards the holy grail of modern day cricket that goes by the term ‘team balance’. His bowling was the real key for India in this Test, but a handy half-century earlier on in the game meant he achieved a rare double of scoring a fifty and taking five wickets in an innings in the same Test.