By Prakash Govindasreenivasan
Ravindra Jadeja is one of the most discussed cricketers today. What is baffling is the fact that he is discussed irrespective of doing anything on or off the field. In the recent past, Jadeja has been the centre of attraction on various social media websites like Facebook and Twitter where cricket fans have derived sadistic pleasure in having fun at his expense. The only statistic related to Jadeja that is doing the rounds is probably the number of retweets a joke on him got, or the number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ a Jadeja meme received on Facebook. The man has also been bread and butter for many satire bloggers and humour columnists. The sarcasm even reached Jadeja’s profile page on Wikipedia, causing a stir.
There are two questions Jadeja’s detractors need to ask: Firstly, did he deserve a Test cap? Secondly, has he done justice to his selection?
The first one is contentious. The Indian team has been going through a rough patch and has struggled even on home conditions. In this transition period, the newly-appointed selection panel was expected to take some hard decisions. Players like Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, and Subramaniam Badrinath continued to wallow in the sidelines, while Jadeja got selected to play England at Nagpur. The selection seemed bizarre and was met by a lot of criticism in the media as well as social media. Cricket fans and conspiracy theorists began to correlate his Test team selection with his allegiance to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) — Indian cricket’s power epicenter with the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), N Srinivasan, also the owner of that Indian Premier League (IPL) team. With India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni also a CSK man, the conspiracies were not entirely baseless, especially when there were far more deserving candidates waiting in the wings.
But to Jadeja’s credit, he did well from the word go. He picked up three wickets in that game, dismissing the dangerous Kevin Pietersen in both the innings. In fact, he managed to hoodwink Pietersen in the second essay.
Even if his selection into the side was premature, it would have been cruel to drop him after a decent performance.
The Australia series was going to be the real test of his character. The selectors dropped another bomb when they announced the team for the first Test against Australia at Chennai, leaving out Pragyan Ojha who was the only bowler who managed to trouble the England batsmen throughout the series. Harbhajan Singh was handed his 100th Test cap, Ravichandran Ashwin kept his place in spite of an indifferent performance against England and skipper Dhoni named Jadeja as the third option in the spin department. With the Australian side filled with left-handed batsmen, Dhoni did not see the need to name both Ojha and Jadeja in the first game. Dhoni probably saw Jadeja as a better option as he could offer something with the bat as well.
Three Tests down, one cannot ignore the fact that Jadeja has done exceedingly well so far. With 17 wickets at an average of 18.88, he is the second highest wicket-taker the series — behind Ashwin. But, it’s not just the numbers that have made him stand out in the series so far.
The Chennai Test saw Jadeja’s trial by fire. Ashwin, who had a rather forgettable series against England, seemed a rejuvenated soul. Everything about his bowling was right. There was variation, bounce, trickery and so much more to fox the Australian batsmen. To complement this however, Dhoni would have expected Harbhajan and Jadeja to do well from the other end. While Harbhajan’s woeful form continued, Jadeja did not fail to surprise. With Ashwin digging his teeth into the Australian batting order, Jadeja held things up beautifully at the other end. He did not let the runs come easy from his end and gave away just 71 runs in the 36 overs he bowled in the first innings at Chennai. To top it, he got the most crucial breakthrough when he dismissed centurion Michael Clarke. He went on to pick up three wickets in the second innings as India won the match by 8 wickets.
In the second Test at Hyderabad and the third Test at Mohali, Jadeja dismissed Clarke twice, getting him five times in six innings. He also picked up six wickets in each Test to take his tally to 17, only five short of Ashwin’s number of wickets. If nothing else, his ability to make Australia’s current best batsman his bunny should earn him some words of praise. His delivery to Clarke in the second innings in Hyderabad is worth a special mention. A lovely delivery that was dipping on Clarke, spun slightly away to flatten his off-stump. Clarke came forward to defend it and was beaten. Sunil Gavaskar compared the ball to Shane Warne’s delivery to Mike Gatting.
Apart from bowling what Gavaskar thought was on par with the ‘Ball of the century,’ Jadeja has also maintained a very good line and length throughout the series. His pitch map reveals tight wicket-to-wicket bowling with enough variations to fetch him a handful of wickets. If one looks back at the first two Tests, his bowling efforts ensured that the team did not really miss the services of Ojha. Such has been his impact.
Ravindra Jadeja, in all honesty, deserves his due credit from Indian cricket fans.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)