The story of 'Sir' Ravindra Jadeja — Things can only get better from here

While making fun of Ravindra Jadeja, what people so easily tend to overlook is the progress he has tracked since the early days of his career © PTI

By Parth Pandya

The role of social media as a public influencer can hardly be ignored anymore. Forums, Communities, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger etc. have nearly become a way of living in today’s world that is going digital in every possible avenue. The penetration of the internet has exponentially grown in the last few years all over the world and it can be argued, nearly every opinion today is propagated through some form of digital medium or the other.
Cricket inside the Indian subcontinent, is one phenomenon where opinions are dime a dozen and it is very hard to distinguish the ones with accurate analysis from those that lack the context. Indians in general are known for deriving convenient opinions out of selective understanding. And the moment it comes to cricket, there’s an instant urge among every Indian to opine, pontificate, analyse and howsoever inaccurately, but pass a verdict. Given this mass tendency, it is no surprise that various cricket forums on the internet are immensely popular in India.
Notwithstanding the regulations that have lately been introduced by the government on the content floating online and teeth having been added to the cyber law to fight against defamation and denigration of an individual or an institution, the online banters have hardly stopped. The convenience in expressing an opinion online lies in the lack of accountability one is supposed to take of it. In a virtual space, discussions invite participation from the enthusiasts who may not even have known each other outside it and in great likelihood shall not need to be face to face ever after too. The sheer volume of opinions and views that are expressed all over these forums considerably dilute their impact but when a similar opinion is resonated from multiple corners, it creates a magic bullet effect and in the current scenario, takes no time in going viral.
The case of what was intended as a light-hearted, sarcastic banter against India’s young bowling (or batting maybe?) all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is a very interesting one. For reasons unbeknownst even to the creators of the banter, it has today caught the attention of even the captain of the Indian national cricket team who does not refrain from sharing a Rajinikanth-esque joke from his official Twitter handle on a cricketer who many would agree, is his own protégé. And it doesn’t end there. Players like Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin, who themselves belong to Jadeja’s generation of the team, are not hesitant to follow the footsteps of their captain on this front too.
A thorough understanding of the demeanour that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has carried in public eye during these nearly six years of his tenure leading India would tell you he is not the one to invite people’s uproar his way and cause unnecessary hassles to disturb the harmonious dressing room environment — something that is essential for a team to excel. The world was momentarily taken by a shock to see even Dhoni joining the anti-Jadeja bandwagon and before the dust could settle, there were speculations doing rounds about the captain’s Twitter account having been hacked and that these tweets were published by a forger. But that was not to be here. There was no case of Dhoni’s nephew rising to instant fame either. And thus, there’s every reason to believe that the skipper of the Indian team was pretty much in his senses and knew exactly what he was doing when he decided on poking fun at Jadeja — a gesture that could so easily have been treated by the mainstream media as a faux-pas on Dhoni’s part.
That Dhoni continued to tweet a few more jokes about ‘Sir’ Ravindra Jadeja after the initial spree of tweets — which surprised the followers and did not even feel the necessity to clarify his intentions in the popular media — speaks volumes for the kind of bond that he shares with his juniors and at the same time, the respect he commands among them. While there may be endless conjectures about the supposed rifts between Dhoni and the other bunch of senior players in the Indian team, this Twitter saga has made one thing absolutely clear: The captain garners unconditional respect and commitment from the Rainas and the Jadejas of the world.
Coming back to Jadeja, this trend of showing no mercy while ridiculing every act of his on the field is, although appears so, not a new one. Jadeja has been in the scheme of things for close to four years now and it will not be harsh to suggest that, but for the recent series win over Australia, he has done little to do justice to his potential. However, there is no clear explanation for why has he been the only one singled out despite a host of players in this period having underperformed — some of them even being the more established names in Indian cricket. Neither did Jadeja make any unmeaningful remarks in the press during this time, nor were his on field actions even remotely close to those of say, Gautam Gambhir or Virat Kohli. It is baffling to know the levels to which he’s been crucified by the Indian fans because his behaviour has hardly ruffled any feathers and poor performance is surely not the yardstick for the fans as can be explained by the relatively greater tolerance that has been shown to the other non-performers.

Observing the timeline of Jadeja’s international career so far, predominantly there are three events that contributed perhaps the most to this untowardly image of the man. The very first and the most famous one was during India’s loss to England at Lord’s in the 2009 edition of World T20 which virtually ended all hopes of progressing to the next round. In a tricky 154-run chase, Jadeja was promoted in the batting order to play ahead of India’s demigod of T20 cricket — Yuvraj Singh. The then 20-year-old boy from Rajkot, not to the surprise of too many, failed to rise to the occasion and consumed 35 crucial deliveries adding a meagrely 25 to the team’s total. India lost the contest and there are no prizes for guessing the scapegoat correctly.
Later that year in November, Australia had toured India for a seven-game bilateral battle and the series was interestingly poised at 2-2 when the two locked horns at Hyderabad. Chasing a mammoth 351, Sachin Tendulkar had taken the task on his shoulders — much like he had for the last 20 years — and was taking the game away from Australia despite the clear lack of support from the other end. With 19 more required from the remaining three overs, Tendulkar (175) finally perished and Jadeja, batting decently at the other end was expected to do the remaining. What turned out in the next 10 minutes was reminiscent of the events in Chennai in 1999 as the Indian tail could not even last for the three full overs. The fall was triggered by a crazy run-out where Jadeja attempted a non-existent single. It was a moment of complete anguish and disgust for fans but before disposing all their wrath on the Saurashtra prodigy. Few bothered to acknowledge that he had scored 23 off 17 balls coming in at No 8 and had outscored Tendulkar in the decisive 32-run stand. Even fewer have ever uttered a word about the mediocre display of batting from Gambhir (8), Yuvraj (9) and Dhoni (6) in the same game.
The third and perhaps the most telling one came during the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean in 2010. Jadeja was picked in the squad despite missing the IPL due to contractual irregularities. The first game against the Aussies during the Super Eights is one Indian fans would not prefer being reminded of. Shane Watson and David Warner demolished the Indian attack and the bowling changes made by MS Dhoni during the innings were beyond the realm of reasoning. Jadeja delivered a horrible spell of two overs conceding 38 runs. He was taken for cleaners by both the openers and was hit for six consecutive sixes, albeit split across the two overs. Even today this spell is too handy a point to raise in any criticism of Jadeja.
However, what people so easily tend to overlook is the progress he has tracked since. As a bowler he has improved leaps and bounds and is almost impossible to do away with even from the longer format in the subcontinent conditions. He was basically nurtured as a utility player for the shorter version of the game, but is presently a very vital cog in the wheel for Indian Test side. With apparent improvements in his slogging abilities, he has successfully carved a niche for himself — superseding the likes of Yusuf Pathan who too failed to live up to the hype.
Of course, Jadeja is only an article in progress and is far from a complete solution to the perennial problem of all-rounders that India has faced since Kapil Dev’s retirement. However, of the available lot, he’s definitely worth picking and from the looks of it, this unreasonable and often unfair spree of sarcastic criticism that has been diverted his way, has only helped him strengthen even further. For a player who lacks exceptional skills in either of the departments of the game, Jadeja has already achieved a lot by cementing his position in the team, although only in certain playing conditions.
On a concluding note, nobody can be sure whether Dhoni intended it this way, but what his Twitter jokes have done is significantly negated the hitherto impact of the internet banter and taken the jokes so much into mainstream that from here on, the masses will treat them as nothing more than harmless, light-hearted humour cracked at an exceptionally talented young cricketer who has fought his way to glory. ‘Sir’ Ravindra Jadeja can only rise from here.

(Parth Pandya believes writing makes up for not being good enough to play sports at the top level. He is the editor of The Hard Tackle, India’s fastest growing football website)