India vs England, 5th Test: With reputation on the line, Ravindra Jadeja delivers
Ravindra Jadeja battled to a vital 86* on Test comeback. @Getty

It won’t contribute to an Indian victory, but Ravindra Jadeja‘s unbeaten 86 against England on day three of the fifth Test at Kia Oval may yet prove to have been his finest hour.

Why, you ask, nay demand to know?

Because of the situation facing Jadeja the international cricketer and the predicament that India were in when they resumed their first innings on Sunday. This was the proverbial ‘dead rubber’, but both India and Jadeja have plenty to prove. India, if their coach Ravi Shastri is to be believed, were not here to “throw in the towel”. And yet there they were, 174/6 when day three began, 158 runs adrift of England’s first innings. Given their feeble batting all series, a collapse to 205 was not unthinkable.

Jadeja had a point to prove. Not part of India’s limited-overs teams, Jadeja, like R Ashwin, only has the Test format to keep himself relevant. Unlike Ashwin, he had to watch from the sidelines for four Tests against England. He has had to prove himself before as a Test cricketer, but never like this: deemed surplus for four Tests in a row, and suddenly elevated to sole allrounder status in a Test match with reputations on the line, given that India next play an overseas Test in December, that too in the cauldron of Australia.

Jadeja’s chances of getting a Test in England were always slim, given the presence of Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav in an 18-man squad when the series began. Ashwin, India’s premier spinner, was an automatic pick. Kuldeep, it was suspected, would get the nod ahead of Jadeja owing to the success he had against England in the ODIs and T20Is that preceded the first Test.

As it played out, Ashwin played four Tests and Kuldeep, after a wicketless outing at Lord’s, was sent back to India. Kuldeep should have played at Edgbaston and not at Lord’s, a selection error which Shastri and Virat Kohli have owned up to. Jadeja should have played at Southampton, where Moeen Ali’s nine wickets showed up the unfit Ashwin and underlined how Jadeja could have fared, given the way he fired them in fast and flat to reap the rewards.

Ravindra Jadeja took the score from 160/6 to 292, adding 77 with Hanumi Vihari and then 55 with the tail.
Ravindra Jadeja took the score from 160/6 to 292, adding 77 with Hanumi Vihari and then 55 with the tail. @Getty

And so Jadeja, who took four wickets in England’s first innings, found himself walking out with India 160/6 on day two, desperately trying to prevent a collapse. India were wobbling on a day supposedly made for batting. The situation called for a determined effort and that is what Jadeja proved: determined. After most of his team-mates fell to wafts, Jadeja displayed a grit that could have been handy earlier in the series, even though these were the most comfortable of Test conditions to bat in at Kia Oval.

To his credit, Jadeja took the score from 160/6 to 292, adding 77 with the debutant Hanumi Vihari and then 55 with the tail, of which his contribution was 47. His unbeaten 86 is proof of what he can do, not what he often has.

Jadeja’s Test batting had worn more than a shade of frivolity to it, but this is a man with three first-class triple-centuries (hence the moniker of ‘Sir’ Jadeja) and today the watchful Jadeja was on display. Jadeja was at the forefront of India’s resistance on day three and showed tremendous patience for a player who has not had any time in the middle and may not have expected to have. He played each of the England fast men well, and with some luck on his side saw a couple thick edges fly safe of catchers. While he ducked and weaved, Vihari at the other end progressed to a fifty on Test debut.

But there was also his street-smartness. Or maybe it was just Jadeja being ballsy. Whatever it was, it worked. Three balls into a James Anderson over – after Moeen had dislodged Ishant Sharma and the reckless Mohammed Shami had heaved to mid-on – Jadeja beckoned to Bumrah, asking him if he was okay facing. Bumrah raised a glove and nodded. Anderson went full, Jadeja made room and smashed the ball downtown for six. Conventional logic suggested that Jadeja would take a single. But this was Jadeja, the maverick. It is that kind of bravado that injects into this Indian lower order a bit of oomph. It is that kind of oomph that on other days will prove match-winning.

Jadeja had to struggle and survive, and for nearly two sessions he did just that, only to end up 14 short of a maiden Test hundred when he called the last man Bumrah for a silly single. It was the last ball of the over, to be fair to Jadeja who had just seen Bumrah play out a maiden over before this, but the choice of call was poor. Nevertheless, that India had 292 on the board from the depths of 160/6 owed plenty to Jadeja, with a very fine hand from Vihari.

All told, Sunday’s 86 was largely about denial. Jadeja denied himself cross-batted strokes, he denied himself extravagant drives and he denied himself any considerations of how he looked. He put a price on his wicket, which is not something we’ve seen Jadeja do a whole lot of as a Test cricketer. He showed substance, which is what wins Test matches.

What a day like today shows to India is how crucial the allrounder is. Pandya, for all the technical and mental application showed at Edgbaston and Lord’s, was unable to produce an innings as focused and cussed as Jadeja’s.

Ravindra Jadeja has so far taken five wickets in the Test.
Ravindra Jadeja has so far taken five wickets in the Test. @Getty

Jadeja had a further hand to play in India’s overall good day three, bowling Moeen for 20 first ball after he convinced Kumar Dharmasena that the ball needed to be changed. A lovely delivery did for Moeen, who was bowled through the gate as he drove hard. Jadeja wheeling through his overs faster than it takes to light a cigar offers Kohli a superb bowling option to get in more overs from his quicks, which is a handy resource to have. His left-arm spin threatens to have a say on day four, which underlines the significance of a stump-to-stump, relentless approach in conditions such as these.

Top-scorer for India so far, most wickets for India so far. Not a bad comeback to India’s playing XI, is it?