Ravindra Jadeja had, during the first year of his international cricket career, been blamed so often for losing India matches that you wondered when this perky spin-bowling allrounder would pick up his smartphone and tweet to his online haters to tell them, charitably, to go play in traffic.
During his first tournament, the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 in England, he was sent ahead of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan in a tricky chase versus the hosts and subsequently castigated by fans for scoring 25 off 35 balls as India slumped to defeat. A few months later, Jadeja was pilloried once more when he was run out in an ODI chase of 350 and India finished three runs shy of Australia’s total. In 2010, during the World T20 in the West Indies, Jadeja was hit for three successive sixes by Shane Watson and then, during his second spell, the same punishment was meted out to him by David Warner. Once again, in the eyes of countless Indian cricket fans, Jadeja was the ‘match ka mujrim‘, to borrow from a mid-2000s cricket programme on India’s most watched Hindi news channel, which translates to ‘criminal of the match’.
Then when he reeled off three first-class triple-hundreds between 2011 and 2012 for his domestic team Saurashtra, Jadeja found himself with the moniker of ‘Sir’ Jadeja from social media, and even here it came across as a back-handed compliment. Somewhere along the way, Jadeja decided to shut out the noise. Full credit to his powers of the mind that he deflected the online vilification and let his cricketing talent to the speaking. Therein lies the secret to the success of Jadeja, who today can arguably lay claim to being the most important Test allrounder going around.
If a cricketer’s bowling average is lower than his batting average, the ‘allrounder’ tag is attached almost instantaneously. In Jadeja’s case, the statistics are excellent: he averages 36.46 with the bat and 24.28 with the ball after 58 Test matches. In 2020, based exclusively on CricViz’s market-leading analytics, Jadeja emerged as the most valuable Test player of the 21st century.
His work ethic and training skills have for long been acknowledged and respected by the Indian cricket team, but allied to his physical skill with the ball and bat, during his up and down journey Jadeja sharpened up mentally and transformed himself into, arguably, the most important member of the current Indian Test team.
Rohit Sharma, the man whom India’s chief selector termed “our No 1 cricketer”, recently paid tribute to Virat Kohli for “getting us going” in Test cricket, an obvious reference to the former India captain’s role in taking India from the second half of the rankings to No 1 and helping them stay there for five-odd years. Both Rohit and Kohli have been instrumental in their own way in India’s success, as have the colossus that is R Ashwin, a terrific pace attack comprising Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav, and Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
But as an allrounder, that most valued of assets in cricket, what Jadeja has offered this Test team and achieved since he made a comeback in 2015, is outstanding. We have seen how India’s balance gets impacted when Jadeja is injured. Most recently and most tellingly, this happened during the tour to South Africa. Because Jadeja is so good at what he does, India can go overseas and play five bowlers.
When he is fit and available for selection, Jadeja edges out Ashwin in overseas Tests. He offers a far more reliable batting option than Ashwin, which is ostensibly why Jadeja played all four Test matches against England last summer while his fellow allrounder warmed the bench. Being a left-hander in an all-right-hand top five also helped, and there was the fact that Jadeja had bowled long and telling spells in several overseas wins which, let’s face it, are the hallmark of Kohli’s Test legacy.
Thus, it could be argued, he has been the most pivotal player during India’s successful run as the No 1 Test team.
And so, for the second coming of Jadeja the Test cricketer we must go back to November 2015 when Jadeja made his first Test appearance in more than a year by taking five wickets to bowl India to a huge win inside three days over top-ranked South Africa. This victory was Kohli’s first as Test captain on home soil and it came, admittedly, on a slow track that offered plenty to spinners on either side. How Jadeja sussed out the conditions and ruthlessly plugged away underlined what he could bring to the table.
The venue for that Test match was Mohali, at the PCA Stadium where on Sunday Jadeja completed his most commanding performances for India in a three-day thrashing of Sri Lanka: a career-best 175* and nine wickets to be named Player of the Match, the first male player in Test history to score 150+ runs and take nine wickets in a single Test. From his comeback Test in Mohali in November 2015 to now, Jadeja has claimed 196 wickets at 22.88 apiece, striking every 56.5 deliveries, in 46 matches. Add on 2006 runs at 41.79, with two hundreds and 16 half-centuries, and you have the team’s most valuable allrounder.
His bowling, we all know, has proven devastating on spin-friendly tracks and restrictive on the lifeless surfaces. The flatter the pitch, the more untiring Jadeja becomes. It is a rare skill. Hitting the same spots, getting the odd ball to grip, still keeping the batsman second-guessing. That is Jadeja’s core skill on flat decks and it has, such as at Lord’s in 2014, the MCG in 2018 and The Oval in 2021, proven match-winning.
What adds to Jadeja’s importance in this Test team is redefined batting since late 2017. In the last five years, nearly 40% of his runs have come batting with India’s tail. The two top-ranked allrounders in Tests, Jason Holder and Ashwin, have numbers that pale in comparison to Jadeja’s when it comes to scoring runs with the lower order. For a team habitually prone to losing their last half, what Jadeja has done to solidify the lower order and take India to big totals is exemplary and unmatched. And, for the record, since 2017 only Rohit and Kohli average higher than Jadeja’s 46.48.
You would have expected nothing less from Jadeja to slot back into India’s Test XI three months from his previous appearance and make an impact. But what he did to Sri Lanka in Mohali was unprecedented and, frankly, pure bullying. This Test was Jadeja’s biggest yet, and from it he emerged as the most influential player.
His unbeaten 175 is the highest score by an Indian No 7 ever, and of the 223 runs that India made after they lost their sixth wicket, 140 were Jadeja’s as he helped them post 574. After his batting heroics, Jadeja took five wickets as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 174. Then, once Rohit enforced the follow-on, he took out Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal and Lasith Embuldeniya to make it nine wickets for the match. Kohli’s 100th Test became Jadeja’s Test.
He might not achieve such all-round perfection in a Test match again, but then equally he might go and out-do this in the next match. Such is Jadeja’s brilliance. Rohit said after the Mohali win that he intends to get more out of Jadeja the Test batsman. That can only be good news for Jadeja, a supreme cricketer who has evolved wonderfully over the years. With wisdom, it has been said, comes simplicity. Jadeja’s wisdom gained has been exponential, and along the way he has just kept it simple. No experimenting, no variations, nothing flashy. Just stuck to what he knows.