Jadeja's 175 not out was a calming partnership with Rishabh Pant, an enduring one with R Ashwin and then an entertaining one with Mohammed Shami – all in the span of three sessions as India showed off their might against the hapless Sri Lankans
December 2012. The scene was Nagpur. India and England had just finished a grim draw, and the hosts had not been able to win the fourth Test on a slow, sub-continental wicket despite playing three spinners. England had won the series 2-1 and skipper MS Dhoni had to answer a few pointed questions.
One of those questions was regarding India’s latest Test debutant, Ravindra Jadeja. “How do you see him shaping up in India’s plans for the longer format,” one asked Dhoni.
“He can be a useful all-rounder for India in Test cricket. He has got good skills and we must afford him the time to develop those skills, especially in the batting department. Once he bats with a certain level of confidence, he will be a real asset for India in Test cricket,” said Dhoni, in his inimitable matter-of-fact approach.
Almost ten years later, in 2022, when Jadeja strode out to bat against Sri Lanka in Mohali on day one, the 5,000-strong crowd let out a raucous cheer. To their mind, he had already crossed that bridge long ago. He is a reliable batsman now, an entertainer, a batsman in the guise of a swordsman and again, an entertainer. The fans, disappointed with Virat Kohli missing out again on his 71st, wanted reward for their patience.
And Jadeja delivered, like he usually does these days. 175 not out, a calming partnership with Rishabh Pant, an enduring one with R Ashwin and then an entertaining one with Mohammed Shami – all in the span of three sessions as India showed off their might against the hapless Sri Lankans. It displayed his full range of strokes, and most of all, ascertained that Jadeja is now a reliable bet for any batting situation.
Add to it the format caveat – recently he had anchored India’s middle order in the T20Is. Jadeja is now an accomplished batsman, even if this display is against a lowly Lankan side.
This, though, was more than just about a David-Goliath battle, or even the need to please fans. This was an innings destined for Jadeja’s blade, but written by a higher power - one that now takes care of the legendary Shane Warne.
“I was 19-years old when he gave me a great platform at the IPL. I was in complete awe back in 2008 when I shared the dressing room with him,” Jadeja said after the day’s play, reflecting on his time together with Warne for Rajasthan Royals.
Age-wise, Jadeja was nothing more than a baby-faced hipster. Someone who had been thrust into the limelight after his exploits on the domestic circuit and at the Under-19 World Cup thereafter, he was yet to learn what professional cricket was all about.
Enter Warne! Apparently Jadeja had a timing problem, and on a couple occasions, missed the team bus. The Royals’ captain summarily straightened him out, making him walk halfway from the stadium to the team hotel in Jaipur. The lesson was learnt.
Why did Warne do it? Because he loved the game, yes. Because he wanted to give back to the game irrespective of country allegiance, indeed. Because he was being paid to lead and mentor the Rajasthan team, of course. But also because he noticed a bright spark in this young talent, which, when nurtured, would shine bright on the biggest stages in the cricketing universe. It takes one to know one – it took a Superstar like Warne to identify a Rockstar like Jadeja. That’s why he did it!
It is no wonder that Dhoni noticed this spark as well. Jadeja’s career-best knock in Mohali, following almost a decade after his words in Nagpur, was both a marker to his former captain’s words as well as an ode to Warne’s memory. On his first day in the heavens, he would have smiled, looking down upon one of his wards lighting up the cricket field. Nay, owning it, much like Warne did.
Summarily, Jadeja’s batting career can be divided into two halves. The first, until 2017, when he averaged 29.40 with the bat in 35 Tests, and the second half, from 2018 onwards, wherein his batting average has shot up to 47.76 in just 23 Tests. In the latter half, he has also scored two hundreds and nine half-centuries, including today’s career-best 175 not out.
A key aspect of his batting herein has been the ability to counter pace. Circle back to 2014 at Lord’s when he took on the English attack and scored a maiden half-century to help India register a famous Test win. Those exploits were far and few in between, and there was a necessity to breach that very gap and bring forth a consistency in his batting.
Negotiating pace was central to this plan, and Jadeja has spent hours practicing against the throwing arm as well as facing umpteen pacers in the nets. This is especially seen whenever India travels abroad. Playing spin, particularly at home, was never a problem. After all, he has three triple hundreds in Ranji cricket.
“It is a mindset thing,” explained Jadeja, about his improved ability to comprehend pace. “In international cricket, you need to take a bit more time in the middle. I try to stay calm. The longer I bat, the more I can express myself and play to my natural ability.”
This change in mindset began with giving Jadeja more batting responsibility in the lower order. For this, full credit goes to Virat Kohli’s Test rein. When he became captain, there was a major shift in game plan as India took the field with five bowlers more often than not. It meant the bowlers had to put up their hands with improved batting performances. Ashwin’s two Test centuries in the early part of Kohli’s captaincy are a case in point.
Pairing up with Ashwin provides a spur for Jadeja and in more ways than one. While there is a healthy competition between the two for the lead spinner spot, now they compete for the leading spin all-rounder role as well. And this facet comes into play most of all when India is touring abroad. Ashwin or Jadeja, Jadeja or Ashwin, is now a never-ending debate on those overseas tours.
You have to go back to Mohali in 2016, when against England, it was again a solid lower-order partnership between Ashwin and Jadeja that paved the way for an astonishing come-from-behind win for India. As such, this knock in the first Test against Sri Lanka isn’t the only case in point, nor is it surprising any longer.
It is the norm in the life of Ravindra ‘Rockstar’ Jadeja these days.
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