Strangely, some of the best batsmen in world cricket have come in decidedly small packages: Don Bradman, Sunil Gavaskar, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, GR Vishwanath, Alvin Kallicharan, Virendra Sehwag and many others.
In recent times where emphasis has been on fast scoring and powerplay the short Australian opener David Warner has been a stand-out batsman. Steve Smith and Quiton de Kock are others who bat gloriously for the short men. Whether the pint-sized Kedar Jadhav too would be spoken of in the same breath as these greats and potential greats is uncertain. Not because the Pune cricketer lacks in talent but only because he is already 32 years of age and most cricketers would have made their reputation by then.
On Saturday, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Jadhav fired the imagination of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) fans most unexpectedly as he gave a superb exhibition of controlled aggression against the marauding Delhi Daredevils (DD) bowlers.
RCB have always had big batting stars: Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, to name three. On Saturday, it was Gayle and Watson who were expected to fire for the team. But neither got into the groove as the side ran into deep trouble and were tottering midway when Jadhav, who had come in with the total on 41, turned it on in splendid fashion.
He smashed 24 runs off an Amit Mishra over (2 sixes, 2 fours, 2 twos) to help RCB break the shackles and set them on the way.
“I’ve always been very confident of my batting,” he said after the match. “I backed myself and went for the shots. I’ve played First-Class cricket for 10 years. That experience has taught me to pace my innings in various forms of the game.”
It was not always so. Earlier this year, despite Jadhav making an excellent 90 off 75 balls, India still lost an ODI by a mere five runs to England. At that time, it was felt that Jadhav and Hardik Pandya had failed to capitalise on ODI field restrictions between the 30th and 40th overs when England slipped in their lesser bowlers, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and a listless Chris Woakes. Had Jadhav been aggressive at that time, England would have been forced to bring in their main bowlers prematurely and struggle later with bowling options.
Against Delhi, though, it was different. At the half-way stage, RCB were at a miserable 61 for three. If in the next 10 overs they succeeded in adding a splendid 96 runs, it was almost wholly due to Jadhav’s pyrotechnics.
“He is an unorthodox hitter,” said Chris Morris, the South African all-rounder who saw the turnaround from close quarters. “He hits the ball very well, but in unorthodox areas and in non-conventional ways. That takes some getting used to.”
One particular shot off Carlos Brathwaite looked like it was being executed by the right-handed version of Gayle: He hung back in the crease and hit through the line over the sight screen. Another boundary hit off Amit Mishra was swatted past the bowler with a horizontal bat.
“I played just four IPL games last year. There was nothing wrong with my batting. But I had to work on my fitness and fielding. I knew as a professional cricketer I was not up to the mark in these areas. I needed also to add strength,” Jadhav observed.
It is not known if the RCB management had apprised him of his shortcomings. They had advised some players on the areas they needed to work on for this coming season.
“I worked with RCB fitness coach Shankar Basu. The idea was to work on my strength and fitness. I succeeded in dropping seven kgs because of this. I feel lighter, stronger and more confident,” Jadhav remarked.
That’s the strength, along with his superb timing which enabled him to clobber the ball for five sixes and five fours in his match-winning knock of 69 (37 balls).
A stadium overflowing with delighted RCB fans took him to heart. The absence of Kohli, de Villiers and KL Rahul had robbed the team of three huge batting stars. The failures of Gayle and Watson were a further blow. But Jadhav soon put the fans miseries at rest with his brilliant batting.
Jadhav’s bat speed and ability to dominate bowling attacks was always known. Had he been given the right encouragement between the years 2008 and 2011, this Maharashtra ace batsman would have graduated to a higher class pretty swiftly.
Instead, he is being labelled as a late bloomer when all along the crying need was for his talent to be spotted and acknowledged. The fact that he had acknowledged his shortcomings in fitness and power and had worked on them so extensively speaks very highly of his commitment.
RCB’s fans will be hoping that he makes up for lost opportunities in double quick time.