Ravindra Jadeja’s (above) success could spell trouble for Pragyan Ojha, especially on overseas assignments © PTI
By Karthik Parimal
Not so long ago, critics in the mainstream media and social media questioned Ravindra Jadeja’s credentials, arguing why he didn’t deserve to make the cut on the international stage. Post the forgettable One-Day International (ODI) home series against Pakistan a few months back, a fuming Jadeja retaliated against the mockery on Twitter. But that was never going to arrest the plethora of abuses and ridicule that were bound to head his way. Jadeja continues to be the butt of jokes on social networking sites — even after helping India to a clean sweep over Australia with a man-of-the-match winning performance at Kotla. On Sunday, he was the flavour of Twitter where the hashtags #JadejaFacts and #SirRavindraJadeja were both trending. Even his Wikipedia page was not spared. A few days back, someone mischievously had tweaked the Jadeja page on the world’s largest online encyclopaedia by sarcastically calling him ”… a philanthropist, a Nobel Prize winner, a double Laureus Sportman [sic] of the Year, and the nearest human to being God. Other than that he is an Indian cricketer.”
With 24 wickets in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at 17.45 each, handy contributions with the bat in the lower-order, and by dismissing Michael Clarke — arguably the world’s best batsman at this point in time — five times in three Tests, Jadeja has played a pivotal role in India’s historic 4-0 triumph. His performances have stumped a large section of his critics. Whether he can be a similar force outside of the sub-continent is a debate for another day, for it would be naive to undermine this achievement by constantly looking at the South African tour.
Jadeja’s step forward has certainly thrown open a lot of options for the Indian think tank, but at the same time it radiates ominous signs for some first-rate players as well.
What does Jadeja’s success mean to the immediate future of Pragyan Ojha?
Pragyan Ojha has been India’s best spinner during recent times. Prior to the series against Australia, the cricketing fraternity was divided in its opinions as to who India’s premier spinner was. While Ravichandran Ashwin bagged a lot of noteworthy votes, Ojha wasn’t trailing far behind. Therefore, eyebrows were raised when the more experienced, but out-of-form Harbhajan Singh was picked ahead of him for the first two Tests at Chennai and Hyderabad. It was during this period that certain sections had come to terms with the inclusion of Harbhajan, but were still perplexed at the fact that Jadeja’s left-arm spin was rated over that of Ojha’s by the powers that be.
This did increase the burden of expectations on young Jadeja’s shoulders, for every move of his would be scrutinised and compared to that of Ojha’s. Nevertheless, he responded with 11 wickets in the first two Tests and repaid the faith shown in him.
In the next two games, at Mohali and Delhi respectively, absurd theories were cast aside and good sense finally prevailed. Ojha featured alongside Jadeja, but the latter’s performance was far superior. He made inroads into Australia’s middle-order on every occasion and bowled India to victory at the Feroz Shah Kotla with his maiden five-wicket haul. Even his staunchest critics would have taken note of the fact that he looked better than Ojha on all counts during this Test. However, Ojha has delivered on a consistent basis, without hitting the troughs for long, and whether Jadeja can replicate his stability remains to be seen.
For now, India has struck the right balance in the familiar confines of home by embracing the concept of fielding five frontline bowlers. The idea of having three spinners too will no longer be considered offbeat, for Ashwin, Ojha and Jadeja will be instrumental in tandem on these turners. However, India plays its next Test series at home only in the October of 2014, which implies that one, or even two, of these fine spinners will have to be put on the backburner momentarily, for it would be nothing short of a gamble to play all three overseas.
Is it possible that India will play Jadeja as the one spinner overseas?
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher have always found comfort in playing an extra batsman — even at home, until recently. That the South African attack comprises the likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and newbie Kyle Abbott might just force them to revert back to the old tactic. If that is the case, then it’s probably going to be a toss-up between Ashwin and Jadeja for a place in the playing eleven. Or, if the team decides to invest in its strengths, then the two are bound to make the cut. Either way, there is little doubt that Ojha will be sidelined.
If anything, the recent Test series between South Africa and Pakistan has proved that the hosts were vulnerable against spin as well. Saeed Ajmal was Pakistan’s best bowler on the tour, and that is something India could take note of. Even then, it is highly unlikely that three spinners will grace the stage together.
However, the current situation brings to mind one of Rahul Dravid’s statements [albeit used in a different context] after the 2003-04 tour to Australia. Referring to the large pool of batsmen India could choose from back then, he said: “These are good problems to have for India.” The same can be applied here and, the powers that be will be aware that it augurs well to have a formidable bench, and that not everyone can be pleased.
India, though, must revere the resurgence of Jadeja. The Australians got under his skin on multiple counts, but he let his game do the talking this time around. His deliveries to dismiss Glenn Maxwell, David Warner and Mitchell Johnson during the second innings of the Delhi Test will reside in memory for long. Let’s hope he continues to answer his naysayers with a straight bat when India undertakes tougher assignments in the months to come. For now, he’s earned the respect of many, in the most appropriate manner and, deserves every accolade coming his way.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)