Dharamsala. 2016. Kedar Jadhav is given the ball in the 1st ODI against New Zealand, in the 17th over, with MS Dhoni using him to ply one of his unwritten rules: turn the ball away from the batter. With the left-handed Jimmy Neesham and Tom Latham at the crease, and no off spinner in the side, Jadhav is given the task of taking the semi-new ball away. He does exactly that, getting one to grip slightly, and inducing a return catch from Neesham. The next ball doesn’t turn though, and Mitchell Santner is caught behind.
Kedar Jadhav has his first two ODI wickets, and the mountains in the backdrop echo with the mental anguish of the Kiwi batters. ‘How did I get out to that?’ they seem to say.
2017. There are no mountains in Nagpur. Just acres and acres of arid Deccan plateau, staring expectantly at the sky, yearning for rain. But even there, a certain sound cut through the dry heat. ‘How did I get out to that?’ Steve Smith, owner of an average of almost 45 this year, seemed to say as he raged of the pitch, having been dismissed by Jadhav after the fifth ODI on Sunday.
“Even in domestic or local matches he never bowled”, says Swapnil Gugale, Maharashtra Ranji captain and Jadhav’s team mate. “When he was in the Indian team he used to bowl in the nets, and I guess support staff thought he would be a great option because of his short height”, he adds.
To understand Jadhav’s success, one must understand why bowling round arm is anathema to most traditionalists. ‘Your hand must brush your ear’ is the first thing coaches will tell you after teaching you how to hold the ball. A high arm action is essential to a good seam position, high repeatability, and the extraction of turn and bounce.
But while coaches teach that one’s arm should be the 12 o’clock position, or at most the 1 o’clock position, Jadhav is more keen to explore the areas between 2 and 3. He doesn’t care for turn and bounce; getting the ball to turn consistently isn’t a priority, as long as he can get the odd one to. “I’m not sure even he knows what he bowls”, Rohit Sharma on Instagram in an attempt to pull Jadhav’s leg. But the jibe could not be more true. As is the case with seam bowlers, when the bowler doesn’t know which way the ball is going, how can the batter be any wiser?
If mystery spinners and wrist spinners are limited overs cricket’s royalty, off spinners are the common man, as populous as they are innocuous, and treated with a certain contempt by the batting class. But see how uncertain David Warner’s footwork is to Jadhav, how difficult it is to pick his length. Jadhav’s round arm action presents an angle the batters haven’t seen often. The variety is accentuated by the contrast between India’s other spinners, who rely on flight, turn, bounce, and deliberate variation. Because of the rarity of his release points, Jadhav almost acts as a mystery spinner, despite being ‘just’ an off spinner.
In that ODI series against New Zealand, Jadhav did not bowl as round-arm as often he did on Sunday night against Australia. But he clearly has identified the angle as an advantage, and now looks to manipulate it. His height, just 5’4”, means that he is deliberately lowering the release point as far as possible, putting as little bounce on the ball as possible. Any less bounce, and we might be playing hockey, not cricket.
“Because he is short in height, and on top of that he is bending his body low and then slinging his arm and then bowling, that makes it difficult” says Gugale. Have a close look at the hawkeye of his dismissal of Steve Smith, and you will note that the release point is almost in front of the umpires face. His trajectory seems to have taken the phrase ‘bowl stump to stump’ a bit too seriously. It is an angle we usually associate with Lasith Malinga, one of the finest limited overs bowlers of the generation. And when we speak of Malinga, we also note how difficult it is to be consistent with that action. So Jadhav deserves credit for the time he has no doubt spent in the nets without bat in hand.
The fact that he is a part timer that contributes to his success as well. “We never put too much pressure on him because we understand how much he can give you”, Virat Kohli after the 4th ODI. With no pressure on him to take wickets, Jadhav can bowl knowing that he has little to lose, a mindset that lends itself to excellence.
At the other end, the attitudes of the batters also help the Pune-born Jadhav’s case. To use a Star Trek analogy, no batter will lower their shields when a part timer is bowling, but their shield harmonics change subtly. After mentally concentrating hard against bowlers they have spent hours doing their homework on, there can be a subconscious relaxation when you see a player who you know isn’t a part of the opposition’s first line of attack. Either that, or they might try to take advantage of a perceived weak link, and their attacking style of play creates more wicket taking opportunities.
Jadhav’s development as a bowler is also a fine example of necessity spawning invention. Jadhav is 32 years old, and after Dhoni, is the oldest in this side. He is also the least athletic, and his spot in the middle order is still fluid. He knows that there are springy youngsters who will always be talked about every time he fails. So Jadhav must make himself useful in every capacity — including wicketkeeper for his IPL team — hoping that the sum of the parts will become indispensible.
You might recall that against New Zealand last year, a certain Suresh Raina was in the side but was laid low by a fever. Raina and Jadhav were contenders for the same spot in the team, which Jadhav cemented with six wickets in the four matches he bowled in, including a haul of 3 for 29 in Mohali. While the world was having a chuckle about pie-chucking and shovels, Raina probably found it less than amusing.
“The way he has taken his game level above level with every match is phenomenal”, said Gugale. “Some people think he is lucky, or that he has got a chance, but he has created that chance.”
So the world may make more jokes about below sea-level bowling, and his almost portly appearance that reminds one of Pune’s siesta culture. They may talk about his single figure tally of wickets in domestic cricket. But Jadhav now has 16 ODI wickets in 17 appearances at the bowling crease. Only six of those 17 times has he failed to get a wicket. His economy is closer to five than six. And in Nagpur, Jadhav notched up another little milestone: it was the first time he bowled his full quota of overs.
He has now forced oppositions to discuss him in team meetings. They will have to figure out how not to get out to him.