On a bright sunny afternoon at Lord’s in the summer of 2014, Ravindra Jadeja counterattacked his way to his maiden Test half-century. As he completed the single to reach the personal landmark in his tenth Test, he unveiled the swordplay celebration with his bat. Jadeja has since celebrated his batting landmarks in this fashion many a time.
The swordplay made its appearance at Old Trafford when Jadeja played quite possibly the best ODI innings of his career, dragging the dregs of a devastated batting order towards an improbable victory. This time the celebration appeared to have an additional undertone to it; of trying to prove his doubters wrong, particularly one.
Jadeja was nicknamed “Rockstar” by Shane Warne in the opening season of IPL in 2008 and boasts a solid first-class record with bat and ball, but until recently, he was selected to play for India in Tests at home where there was assistance for his type of finger spin, and even more rarely in Tests abroad. He had an early setback in his international career where he stuck out as a strokeless wonder when sent up the order during a crucial 2009 World T20 match.
Even though Jadeja was the first Indian to score three first-class triple hundreds, his batting abilities have not been considered sufficient to command a spot in the Indian side; neither was his bowling suit. Thus by definition, he was not an all-rounder. But with Jadeja, the sum was always more than the parts.
Jadeja took exception to the former cricketer-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar classifying him as a “bits-and-pieces cricketer”. Manjrekar as a seasoned commentator was well within his rights to describe Jadeja’s skills the way he saw them. In the changing landscape of Indian cricket where the players hold sway and a lot of power, Jadeja lashed out on social media at Manjrekar’s comments questioning the former batsman’s Test credentials.
It was an error of judgment by Jadeja to play the man and not the ball. It was, as far as one could tell, a professional comment about a player’s cricketing abilities by a professional observer. In other words, Manjrekar was just doing his job. This was a fight — sword or not — Jadeja could not win, though Manjrekar copped a fair bit of grief from the public who may have been disenchanted with his style of commentary. Even the public played the man, and not the ball.
Jadeja was not able to find a spot in the playing XI in India’s first eight league matches of the 2019 Cricket World Cup. India had chosen to use two spinners for most of their matches and Jadeja wasn’t one of them. In that respect, Manjrekar’s comments held true. If Jadeja were a specialist and a not bits-and-pieces cricketer — a non-offensive term really — he may have had a spot in the XI.
But Jadeja did show his value as a substitute fielder right through the tournament stepping in for several injured Indian players in almost every one of the matches where he started on the bench, so much so that he leads CricViz’s Fielding Impact table for the tournament.
India made a change of plan in their approach and team composition for their last league against Sri Lanka and Jadeja was picked. A tight spell of left-arm spin returned him figures of 1/40 and he lit up the field with his athletic abilities.
At Old Trafford in the semi-final against New Zealand, the now-favored Jadeja exercised control over the Kiwi middle order, squeezing out the wicket of opener Henry Nicholls for 34 runs in his 10 overs. He threatened to take more wickets with the turn he was able to produce off the pitch but had to settle for just a solitary one.
When play resumed on the reserve day, Jadeja left his further imprint on the game with a direct hit from the deep to dismiss the dangerous Ross Taylor, and followed it with a tricky overhead catch to remove Tom Latham, limiting the visions of 250 total that New Zealand may have had.
Cricket’s history is littered with players that have felt aggrieved by comments made from the commentary box. Nasser Hussain pointing to the number on his back after a hundred at Lord’s, Denesh Ramdin’s “Yeah Viv Talk Nah”, and more recently Jonny Bairstow after a century in Colombo, and again, Bairstow at the World Cup. The best riposte any player could have is to deliver the goods on the field and let the detractors eat their words.
As Jadeja made his way to join MS Dhoni with India in tatters, requiring 148 runs in less than 20 overs to save their tournament lives, perhaps Manrekar’s comments were the furthest from his mind. Indian skipper Virat Kohli, however, indicated that those comments had spurred the left-hander on. “(Jadeja) couldn’t wait to get out on the park after what happened in the last one week”, said Kohli, “he was very motivated.”
On a wicket none of the batsmen looked to be in, Jadeja deposited Jimmy Neesham straight over long on, on only the fifth delivery he faced, and the hopes of the Indian diehards flickered back to life. While Dhoni managed the risks on his end, Jadeja played an exhilarating and inspired knock, adding 100 runs for the seventh wicket. When he reached his 50 off just 32 deliveries, the exultant Jadeja celebrated it with the swordplay and gestured towards the commentary box — quite possibly a message for Mr Manjrekar.
Even as Jadeja’s record-setting effort of 77 (59) — the highest score for a No 8 in World Cup semi-final — fell short of taking India through, he had shown everyone all the things he is capable of: incredible fielder, adequate spinner and a destructive batsman.
The message that Jadeja sent to Manjrekar with his play — on the field and with the bat as his sword — and without saying a word got through. On the post-match analysis show, Manjrekar admitted, “by bits and pieces of sheer brilliance, (Jadeja) has ripped me apart on all fronts."
Actions speak louder than words. And at Manchester in a pressure cooker environment, Jadeja let his cricket reverberate through the arena and beyond a lot louder than any of his tweets.