Ravindra Jadeja was destined to be an international cricketer. In a country as big as India, with their scale of reverence for cricket, from time to time there are some players who make the cut, but their selection leaves more questions than answers. Jadeja was one of the few whose debut was met with a knowing shrug of the shoulders, it was the centrefold in an already heavy-ish book.
Veteran of two U19 World Cups, and agonisingly short of returning with two winners trophies rather than one, winner and shining beacon of the inaugural Indian Premier League, insofar that Shane Warne christened him “the rockstar”, the India jersey was waiting to embrace him.
As with most people who promise you the world, Jadeja has now played out most of his career under the cloud of lofty expectations. It’s a curious situation; when he’s doing well as a spin bowler, there’s a slight tinge of disappointment around his batting, and when he shows up with the bat, the mention of his three triple-centuries in First-Class cricket is always around the corner, to drive home the point that he could do so much more.
It took him the role of one of Virat Kohli’s go-to men in the home Test series victories over England and Australia in 2016-17, to sink in the public adulation of having finally come of age. He had been a sought-after name since he went to the 2006 U19 World Cup as a 17-year-old. A decade is a long time for any cricketer to carve a niche for himself in public hearts, and this perseverance is what makes Ravindra Jadeja such a vital piece in the India Test team.
Jadeja was very young into his Test career when India last played a full series in England, and his inexperience showed across the four Tests he was picked for. As is the recurring theme with so many of the current India team, the last four years have seen him evolve into one of the most important weapons for Kohli. He now comes as one half of the most lethal spin combinations in recent memory. On the dusty Indian tracks, facing Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja from both ends can become a nightmarish experience, but on the flatter, harder English tracks, it’s the mystery of one man and the dogged steel of another that India hope will trouble the English batsmen.
Jadeja’s greatest asset is the simplicity of his approach. Bowling swerving dippers at puzzling angles is not his cup of tea. His brand of spin bowling is so easy on the eye, you can pass off his highlights in monochrome and people will readily believe he’s a cricketer from the seventies. Jadeja has the loop and drift that very few subcontinental batsmen, never mind the English, have been able to read properly.
The great Sachin Tendulkar once spoke about the difficulty in self-restraint if VVS Laxman on the other side was creaming bowlers along the carpet for boundaries. When Ashwin is bowling those knuckle-balls and straighter ones from the other end, it must require tremendous tenacity to stick to your strength and let your craft do the rest. Ashwin is an example of how spin bowling has become an elaborate art form over the last couple of decades with a myriad variations coming into the game, but this simple man, from a simple part of the country, has made a career out of efficiently executing the basics.
And like Ashwin, Jadeja has found a way to contribute with the bat in situations of tremendous gravity. Against England at Mohali, against Australia at Dharamsala, against New Zealand at Auckland; Ravindra Jadeja has used his bat exactly like his favorite celebrations portray, not as a battering ram, but the sword which will get you the important kill. A Test average of 30 and an ODI average of 31 isn’t to be scoffed at for a player who’s largely played in the lower order.
Jadeja’s spot in the Test team is secure, and even with Kuldeep Yadav pushing the door further open with every white-ball spell, Kohli and Shastri will know better than to look past the man who gives India’s bowling attack and edge, batting order a cushion at Number 9, and is comfortably among the finest outfielders in the world today. However, his limited overs career has taken a hit, and with the World Cup in England looming large, this Test series is of immense importance to him personally, as almost a final chance at throwing in a heavy contention for a starting spot at next year’s marquee event.
Jadeja coming good will go a long way in placing India favorably for a shot at the elusive Test series victory in England, and giving the Indian team management the pleasing sight of an effective bowling weapon and an accomplished lower order batsman as the World Cup edges closer.