Ravindra Jadeja may have three triple hundreds in First-Class cricket, but he had to wait until his 56th innings at the Test level to score his maiden ton. The Jamnagar boy can finally breath a sigh of relief.
Despite a First-Class average of 44.63, Jadeja has never been considered as a batting all-rounder. He still isn't. But ever since making a comeback in the Test team at the Oval, there has been a tranquility noticed in his batsmanship. Unlike the Jadeja of the past, he is now ready to back his defence and show maturity in shot selection. On Friday, these attributes played a key role as the southpaw notched up his much-awaited Test century, at his home ground. And Jadeja celebrated it in his trademark sword-twirling style.
Well, now it is more and more evident that the time out of the team has made Jadeja a much more composed cricketer. He knows what it feels like to sit in the dugout, series after series, despite being one of the top-five bowlers in the ICC rankings. In South Africa, he travelled with the team but did not get an opportunity to feature in Test playing XI. In England, for the first four matches, he was nowhere in the reckoning. Even on a spin-friendly Southampton track, a half-fit Ravichandran Ashwin was preferred ahead of Jadeja. Perhaps, more than the bowling prowess, the Indian think-tank wanted a reliable batsman down the order, which they felt Jadeja wasn't.
Jadeja may have been hurt, but it didn't show. He just waited for his moment.
Eventually, when he was picked for The Oval Test, there was that burning desire in Jadeja to prove himself in every aspect of the game. And he did by taking seven wickets and scoring unbeaten 86 and 13 in the match. Especially, the knock of 86 in the first innings, against a top quality bowling attack on a seaming track, came as a breath of fresh air for the struggling Indian batting line-up. And for the major part of that innings, there was hardly any sort of recklessness, which in the past used to be associated with Jadeja's batting.
Nevertheless, against the depleted Windies attack here in Rajkot, his challenge was not as stiff as it was at The Oval. When he joined Kohli at the crease, India had 470 on the board and the visiting bowlers had thrown in the towel already. In situations like these, it is easy to just go on the offensive and in doing so, throw the wicket away. But Jadeja didn't. He, like a true professional, decided to make to most out of the situation.
Following a couple of unconvincing edged boundaries, he recomposed himself at the crease and just got into his zone. Wickets were falling at the other end, but Jadeja never lost his temperament. Even against the most harmless bowling, during the initial half of his innings, the left-hander was not ready to play a rash shot, such was his determination.
By the time Jadeja reached his half-century, India were already eight down. With the team's gameplan of batting the opposition out of the Test match, it was only then Jadeja decided to change gears. He used his feet beautifully against the likes of Devendra Bishoo and Roston Chase. With the field being pushed back, Jadeja very wisely hit the spinners straight over their heads.
At 78, he was dropped off a tough chance and in the next ball Umesh Yadav was dismissed. Jadeja still needed 21 to reach his hundred, when the last man, Mohammed Shami joined him at the crease. However, even at that juncture, he looked calm and relaxed. He didn't go for all-out attack, instead, it was a controlled aggression.
Finally, in the 150th over of the Indian innings, the milestone was reached. And from the David Warner-like massive leap in the air, it was evident what this achievement meant for Jadeja, whose batting skills has always been underrated.
"Today I was very calm, not in a hurry and not thinking about the runs," a relieved Jadeja said in the past-match press conference. "I was just looking to play till the last ball. I was just talking to myself that I don't want to play a loose shot, I don't want to play a wrong shot and get out. I was talking to Umesh and Shami as well that I need to play and score that hundred."
Well, with Jadeja emerging as a reliable lower-order batsman, in Australia the team management will have to think twice before playing anyone else in the all-rounder's slot. In fact, with the uncertainty surrounding Hardik Pandya's fitness and Ashwin's dipping form, Jadeja is expected to play a huge role in India's scheme of things.