On Monday, 48 hours before the Boxing Day Test, Ravindra Jadeja bowled in the MCG nets without any discomfort. To the naked eye, he looked fit. Then again, he had bowled in the nets ever since he landed in Australia and yet only on Sunday — almost a month after the Test specialists arrived here — was it announced that Jadeja had been carrying a shoulder niggle all along.
Yes, the issue with the spinner cannot even be classified as a proper ‘injury’. As aforementioned, he has been bowling throughout this Australian tour. He was first sighted bowling in practice before the tour game against Cricket Australia XI. Two days later, he threw down 11 overs in their first innings at the SCG. Since then, Jadeja has bowled in the nets at Adelaide and then at Perth as well.
Thing is, it wouldn’t have mattered as much if Jadeja had not been named in the 13-man shortlist for the Perth Test. Why? Because Virat Kohli said in the post-match conference that Jadeja could have provided the spin option but they simply didn’t opt for it. The skipper didn’t mention once — either pre-match or post-match, nor did anyone else during the Perth Test — that Jadeja was not considered because of fitness issues. Kohli only said that spin was never considered on account of match conditions after the Test ended.
It makes for even more intrigue that Jadeja was fit enough to field as a substitute for a prolonged period during the second Test. Here’s the interesting thing — he wasn’t substituting for any one player, but every 3-4 overs, he would come on the field because India rotated and rested their four fast bowlers. One by one, they cooled off on the boundary, only long enough to not hamper their chances of bowling immediately, and then stepped back in.
During his time on the field, there were no restrictions on Jadeja. He fielded close in, dived around and threw the ball as quickly as he is known to. He also fielded in the deep and threw the ball into the keeper’s hands, and the Perth boundaries weren’t short ones. Point is, Jadeja was fit enough to do that but now bowl.
“We didn’t want to risk him because he was only 70-80 per cent fit. If he is 80 per cent fit here (in Melbourne), he will definitely play,” said coach Ravi Shastri on Sunday.
His words raise a couple key questions. Firstly, was Jadeja left out of the second Test because he was unfit or because the captain only wanted to play four pacers? If the latter case is true, then is the coach simply trying to save face because prominent former cricketers/commentators have questioned the logic of leaving out a spinner in Perth. Sunil Gavaskar has slammed the team management, as has Sanjay Manjrekar, and both have asked for greater responsibility from the Indian think-tank after too many selection errors in 2018.
Second, if Jadeja was not fit, why was he even named in the 13-man squad, especially when there is a third, fully fit spinner available in the Test squad (Kuldeep Yadav)?
At times, it is a late call — at the time of toss or just on the morning of match-day. Even adjusting for a late decision, you have to wonder why Jadeja was in reckoning if Shastri says they "didn’t want to risk him." Was the decision to play four pacers left so late, and was it dependent on Jadeja pulling through? Was Yadav not even in the reckoning in R Ashwin’s absence — Jadeja or noone?
If that last line is true, then it is a wonder if the skipper actually wanted to play a spinner. But again, that is not what he said in the post-match conference. Did the coach want to include a spinner then? Or did chief selector MSK Prasad? At this juncture, it is starting to become a merry-go-round, and looks nothing more than a deflection tactic in the build-up to the third Test in Melbourne.
This is where the BCCI’s media release adds further quandary to this saga. It states that Jadeja had "shown this shoulder trouble as far back as the ODI series against West Indies at home". And then he was "given an injection after which he went on to play a Ranji game wherein he bowled 64 overs". This alone raises huge question marks about injury and fitness management in Indian cricket.
On the one hand, we have someone like Mohammed Shami, who defied instructions to bowl only 15 overs per Ranji innings, and bowled 26 overs in an innings for Bengal before boarding the flight to Australia. On the other hand, we have Jadeja who had already complained about shoulder discomfort and had still been cleared for further domestic cricket, wherein he bowled a humongous number of overs, despite a gruelling Australian tour lying ahead.the here were issues with Shami, who cut a tired figure from his exertions for Bengal in the Ranji knockout phase before the tour. Then, Wriddhiman Saha got injured and despite tours to England and South Africa still pending, he was given permission to play the IPL where he further aggravated his problems.
In England, R Ashwin appeared mysteriously fatigued during the Southampton Test. His injury — another strain — during the Nottingham Test previously was played down, with the captain, vice-captain (Ajinkya Rahane) and the coach all claiming that he was fit. Then, during toss-time at the Oval, Kohli announced that Ashwin had been injured in Southampton. It was staggering that this information had been denied when three people from the team think-tank had been asked about it in the various press conferences.
This Jadeja episode seems along similar lines. That the Board had to send out a clarification is in itself a bad attempt at damage control.