AFP
The top spot is no longer shared. Ravindra Jadeja is up there, perched comfortably, all by himself AFP

A Knight is born

Kensington Oval, 2010. MS Dhoni put Australia in. He started with Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan responded with a maiden to Shane Watson. Dhoni brought on Ashish Nehra still without the suffix ji next to his surname from the other end. Nehra went for 12. Harbhajan continued. Shane Watson swept the second ball with furious pace but failed to keep it on the ground. In fact, it was high, reasonably high, above square-leg s head, but it was still probably catchable. The fielder flung himself upwards and towards his right his wrong side, for he bowls and throws with his left hand and grassed the catch. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs Australia, 3rd Test, Ranchi

Two years before that, Shane Warne had shown how crucial a cricketer Ravindra Jadeja could be, if used properly. Jadeja had batted down the order. He played as a specialist batsman, bowling 13 balls in 14 matches. He also got to face a mere 103 balls (about 7.4 a match). A batting strike rate of 131 is always commendable, but not when pitted against some of the marauders in the side. Consider, for example, Yusuf Pathan (179), Kamran Akmal (164), and Watson (152).

Of course, Jadeja was an outstanding fielder. He was athletic, moved extremely fast on the field, and had one of the greatest arms in the side. But, as Shane Warne later admitted, he had to be pushed constantly: true, Jadeja was immensely talented, but Warne had to make sure Jadeja did not indulge in laziness.

Warne also called Jadeja a rock-star.

Where were we? Ah, the World T20 against Australia. Jadeja was probably low on confidence after that dropped catch. Anyone would have been. Virat Kohli would later mention that despite his supreme natural talent, Jadeja is a confident man by nature. He needs assurance. He is someone you have to convince that he is special.

Warne had done it. Dhoni had done it. Kohli does it today.

Dhoni had probably erred in giving Jadeja the next over. It did not help that Watson, whom he had seen in close quarters at the Rajasthan Royals nets and had dropped in the previous over, was still at the crease.

Jadeja started well. In fact, his first three balls accounted for a single. For a moment it seemed that Dhoni s ploy had worked.

The next three balls were all long-hops. Watson obliged with three easy sixes, one of them landing on the roof.

Jadeja returned for the tenth over. This time he bowled flat. There was nothing wrong with the length, but it was not good enough to stop David Warner and his super-bat from bludgeoning a six.

Jadeja tempted Warner by tossing the ball up. Warner hit another six.

Take a minute to put yourself in the youngster s shoes. He had grassed a chance, probably a difficult one, but certainly catchable by 2010 standards. The man he had let go had smashed him for 3 sixes. He had been recalled, only to make it 5 sixes in 5 balls.

Add to that the fact that he has never been a self-motivating person.

This was not the 90-second over he sends down in Test cricket these days. This was taking him an eternity.

He tried a flatter one, but he could not stop the sixth consecutive six off his bowling.

And unknown to the youngster, in his homeland two oceans away, the legend of Sir Jadeja was born.

It did not matter that Jadeja followed up the 6 sixes by beating Warner outside off; diving to stop the extra run when Warner hit back straight; and found the inside edge of Warner but did not meet with success.

Jadeja had conceded 38 from his 2 overs. Six of these balls had accounted for two singles, one of them off an inside edge.

Australia scored 184. The others conceded 146 in 16 overs. If one takes Harbhajan s overs away, that becomes 131 in 12.

And while chasing, Harbhajan (13) was the only one to reach double-figures barring Rohit Sharma (64*).

But none of that mattered, for his nation decided that one knight was enough for the match.

A Knight grows in stature

As Twitter and Facebook grew in stature in India, so did the stature of Sir Jadeja. Fans remembered him as the man who was hit for 6 consecutive sixes.

They had their fun in 2011-12 when he scored 314 in a Ranji Trophy match. The next season he got 303* and 331. He became the first Indian to score three First-Class triple-hundreds.

The stature kept growing. He had made his Test debut amidst all this, a much-forgotten affair at Nagpur, but roared back later that season in the Australia series, taking 24 wickets at 17.45 to Ravichandran Ashwin s 20.10.

But they did not take notice. Jadeja s credentials, at least as per First-Class records, lay in his three triple-hundreds, not in his left-arm spin. They never knew that Jadeja had been in excellent form with ball for several seasons at that time. He had taken 23 wickets in 5 consecutive innings earlier that season, and had 4 for 48 and 4 for 50 against Bengal immediately before they gave him his Test cap.

But three triple-hundreds had overshadowed all that. Trolling him for his batting failures after that had seemed easy compared to keeping track of domestic records never the forte of the average Indian fan and noticing how good he has been with ball.

They all rode the wave, even his captain, on multiple occasions:

Some of them were recycled Rajinikanth jokes. Some invariably involved comparisons with Garry Sobers, no less. Some were stale. Some were of the highest quality. Even a parody account a much-followed one was created on Twitter.

Jadeja continued, unperturbed. He found himself in and out of the side, but contributed whenever he could, especially in whites. He was dropped for India s next Test but was recalled for the one after that, at Durban. While all three seamers in the side went for over 3.4 an over, Jadeja wheeled away for 58.2 overs, finishing with 6 for 138 at 2.36. It was not exceptional bowling: it was an exhibition of exceptional stamina against an outstanding line-up. Jadeja bowled with metronomic precision, waited for mistakes, and took them out one by one.

Jadeja played a crucial role in the Lord s Test of 2014. India were 235 for 7 after conceding a 24-run lead when Jadeja launched into the England attack. His 68 came off 57 balls; he added 99 with Bhuvneshwar Kumar; and India set England 319. He also took 3 for 99 in the match, held a catch, and finished off things with a run out.

He had a poor series from there on. Unfortunately, unlike many others, he was not remembered for his poor show. They talked about his dropped catch of Alastair Cook at Southampton and his altercation with James Anderson. He was dropped from the side sometime in between as well. Nobody remembers when.

A Knight is reborn

There was no Jadeja in India s eventful 2014-15 tour of Australia or the successful one of Sri Lanka in mid 2015. India included Amit Mishra and recalled Harbhajan to bowl alongside Ashwin. There was no Jadeja to be found anywhere. He was back to bowling in front of empty galleries, bowling and batting for Saurashtra.

He had been given a rope too long, they said; he had to earn his way back.

So Jadeja scored 91 and 58 in the first two matches of the Ranji Trophy 2015-16, batting once every time. He failed in the third. The 3 matches also fetched him 6 five-wicket hauls and 37 wickets.

He was a shoo-in after that, and somehow he reduced the South Africans to the stature of Ranji Trophy sides: his 23 wickets from 4 Tests came at a ridiculous 10.82. Ashwin had more wickets (31), but they cost slightly more (11.12). Jadeja also went for 1.76 an over to Ashwin s 2.09.

There was no stopping Jadeja after that. Bowling in tandem with Ashwin he kept routing one side after another. That bowling average kept dropping. It dipped even below 25 that dream number that has forever remained elusive to Indians.

But it was still Ashwin and Jadeja; never Jadeja and Ashwin. Despite his improved batting skills (he averages 41 this season) he has to bat below Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha.

Then came the Chennai Test. There was little time to bowl England out, but Jadeja made sure he did with 7 for 48, taking his first ten-wicket haul after a quick-fire 51.

For once Ashwin was left behind. It was not much, but Jadeja had showed that he had it in him to rise to the challenge when needed.

Jadeja rose to a career-best of 879 in ICC ratings. He was ranked No. 2 now. One Test earlier Ashwin had scaled 904, becoming the first Indian to go past the 900-mark.

Against Bangladesh they took 6 wickets apiece, but Jadeja outdid the senior man with bat. In the first Test versus Australia, on a rank turner at Pune he took 5 (Steve O Keefe got 12); and at Bengaluru he followed his 6 for 63 with 8-5-3-1.

Ashwin gained 14 points to reach 892. Jadeja s 32 took him to 892. They shared the top spot.

Earl of Rajkot

The Ranchi strip was easier to bat on after Pune and Bengaluru. Experts on both sides had predicted demons, but as things panned out, the Test saw only 25 wickets go down, 24 of them to bowlers.

Jadeja took 9 of these; that is 37.5%, the equivalent of 15 wickets out of 40, the maximum possible in a Test. Another special effort resulted in a run out, reminding the world why Warne had once called him a rock-star. And there was also a 55-ball unbeaten 54, an innings that allowed Kohli to declare when he could.

While the adjudicators refused to reward him, ICC s algorithm more than made up for that. The top spot is no longer shared. Jadeja is up there, perched comfortably, all by himself, one short of the 900-mark reserved for an elite few and 37 clear of others.

Unless something drastic happens Jadeja is going to remain at the top for some time now.

They still call him Sir Ravindra Jadeja , but that has more to do with affection than ridicule. There is no comparison with the giants and giants of Indian spin yet but there will be.

All that, however, is for some later date; as of now, let us celebrate ICC s new top-ranked bowler in Test cricket.