With over 5000 runs and 250 wickets in First-class cricket, Kerala's all-rounder Jalaj Saxena continues to run a never-ending race. The one to wear that India jersey. It is difficult to say who his competitors are.
In the last one year, we have seen national selectors making brave calls, selecting newbies in one tournament after the other. From Shreyas Iyer to Mohammad Siraj and Hanuma Vihari to Prithvi Shaw, the selectors and Virat Kohli himself has shown that they are looking to experiment and find the best talent possible.
In that quest, somewhere, Jalaj Saxena has been left behind. Jalaj took 49 wickets in Ranji Trophy 2017-18, becoming the highest-taker in that season. Not just that, looking at the bigger picture, in the last five Ranji Trophy seasons, he has taken over 200 wickets and scored over 3500 runs.
Jalaj was awarded the Madhavrao Scindia Award last year for his brilliant season in Ranji Trophy. In June, he was also awarded the Lala Amarnath Award for The Best All-rounder in Ranji Trophy, for the third time in last four years. He has picked wickets and awards year after year yet, he has been denied the national call.
On being snubbed so frequently, Jalaj had only one thing to say - that he can only perform, both with bat and ball. He said, "Selection in the national team is not in my hands. I can only perform. I cannot say anything else. Yes, I would be happier if those awards are now converted into rewards."
By rewards, he means the much-awaited national call-up from the selectors. Not just that, Jalaj has not featured in many of the India A squads in the recent past. He did not go to England with the India A team and he wasn't a part of the unit that left early on 10 November for New Zealand as well.
He has done everything to bring himself into limelight. There are times he brought the light upon himself and there were times when he chased the light. Before the 2017-18 season, he shifted his base from MP to Kerala. The move was made to make the selectors notice his contribution with the bigger lenses.
"I shifted base from MP to Kerala with a view that if I perform well in a comparatively smaller team and take my side to winning positions, my performances will be noticed," Jalaj said. "I was already in an established team. I knew it was going to be very challenging to go to a team like Kerala and make them qualify for the semis."
And so he did, picking up 49 wickets for his team, and guiding them into the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time in its Ranji Trophy history.
"Personally, I have performed well in Kerala as well as Madhya Pradesh," the 31-year-old said. Last year, I was the highest taker in the competition. I received the best all-rounder award as well. If you look it from that angle, the move has benefited me. Kerala reached the quarter-finals last year, which happened for the first time for the state. I got awards but I would be happy if I got rewards as well."
Amidst the performances and the wait, the selectors did reach out to him. He said that the selectors had a word with him but nothing concrete came out of it.
"Selectors did have a word with me some time back. They told me to keep playing and I am in their consideration. I have not tried to reach them after that nor have they reached out to me. But yes, they told me I was under their scheme of things," said Jalaj.
The 31-year-old has started the new Ranji Trophy season on a good note, scoring 57 runs and picking up a wicket, against Hyderabad.
While the ultimate dream floats inside, Jalaj does not think of personal targets when it comes to playing for his Ranji side. "I never set any personal target for a particular tournament. I always go match by match. My focus is always on making sure that the team is qualified. That is the only aim when I take the field. There are no personal goals in my mind."
"Every year, I try to work out the chinks in my game, whether it is batting, bowling for fielding. The idea is to improve all the aspects. I study what wrong I did last year which can be rectified and this year too I am following the same process." he added.
Jalaj, who was not picked by any franchise at IPL auctions 2018 early this year, last played in the league in 2015 when he was part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad. Despite so many hurdles and heart breaks, the all-rounder continues to motivate himself.
"The motivation is always to play for India. I always try to do well and hope that someday reward comes my way," he concluded.