At the end of the final ODI on Sunday, Virat Kohli took time to acknowledge the crucial contribution by the two “youngsters” – Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya. The captain was talking purely from an experience standpoint, but it is hard not to wonder if the 31-year-old Kedar Jadhav has had his breakout series, which would enable him to finally cement his place in the national side.
Jadhav is not your typical prodigy who outshone the rest of the field in age-group and school cricket. In fact, he was 29 when he made his international debut two seasons ago, and by all means, it seemed he would only be used when India played their second-string sides.
He plays for Maharashtra in the domestic circuit, a side who are eternally in the shadows of their more illustrious counterparts from the state, Mumbai. They have been in the Plate division of the Ranji Trophy for a long time, and you have to go back as far back as 2003 and Abhijit Kale to know the last time anyone from the side made it to the national team. Jadhav himself has had one of those Ranji run-gluts, scoring 1223 runs in the 2013-14 season, which is the sixth highest ever aggregate recorded in the tournament’s history.
However, it is thanks to the IPL, that Jadhav’s stock has been on the rise over the past five years, ever since he pounded a match-winning 29-ball 50 on debut for the Delhi Daredevils to end one of their many losing streaks, back in 2010. While his attacking style has always been on view, even at the first-class level – he once scored 327 in the Ranji Trophy without the strike rate ever dipping below 100 – it is the IPL and his utility in the lower-middle order that has given his talent the visibility it deserves.
India’s middle-order has never been an easy place to walk into, especially if you are not one of these man-child superstars who have made a mark at the Under-19 level, or more recently, announced yourself in an IPL season. Jadhav, by his own admission, has not played much at these levels, and his first-class career only took off in 2008-09, by which time he was 24.
While being a regular on A tours and pushing his case through match-winning performances away from home, it was hard to break through into a settled limited-overs lineup. It was, hence, not a surprise when he did not play between his ODI debut against Sri Lanka in November 2014 and June 2016, when India toured Zimbabwe with a side full of prospects like him, almost like an A side, but led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It was an opportunity, but considering the number of such players knocking on the door, Jadhav needed something special to stand out in that series.
It is easy to get all rose-tinted and view his returns from that series, and point out to his hundred in the final ODI as the time things decisively changed for him. For a start, he had 21 runs from the first two ODIs, and even his maiden ODI hundred in the final game was a chancy one. In fact, Manish Pandey hit a fluent 71 in the same game, and as Jadhav admitted at the end of that series, "Whoever is the best, the selectors will pick. As far as this opportunity, Manish, me, Manoj and Robin got a good opportunity here. Luckily I converted into a hundred so I'm happy for myself.”
It is at this point that the Indian team management deserves credit for persisting with him, going into the home ODI season. Oddly enough, it was his bowling, his awkward land-behind-the-bowling-crease wide-armed floaters, which was first called upon. India often go into games with four specialist bowlers, and the middle-order batsmen (cue Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh) are the ones who need to make up the fifth bowler’s quota. Despite having only bowled occasionally at the T20 level for Maharashtra, his bowling was a revelation, and in combination with his valuable innings of 39 and 41*, it meant he retained his place for the England series, India’s last three ODIs before their Champions Trophy campaign in June this year.
After his 120 in Pune and 90 in Kolkata, all of a sudden, India seems to have found a finisher, the one that Dhoni has been talking about for a while now, to take the burden off his shoulder.
With the former captain being pushed up to the No 4 and No 5 in the batting order, two out of three times, India found themselves in trouble, and looking down the order, there was no anchor to hold these innings together. In what seem to be promising signs of his versatility, his innings in the second ODI showcased an underrated aspect of his batting so far, one that has paid him rich dividends in the IPL – that of an end-innings master who can play those cameos to bulk up the final total.
Every time this series, Jadhav put his hand up, and once, even outshone Kohli shot for shot. His 90 on Sunday was only an extension of this, and this well-deserved Man of the Series award means he can rest assured of a place at long last, instead of waiting to build a patchwork international career, filled only with places in makeshift squads. Kedar Jadhav is a domestic toiler whose time has finally come, and let’s face it, beyond all that consistency at the first-class level, it is the IPL that he has to thank for the most.
Updated Date: Jan 23, 2017 10:30:27 IST