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MIND AND BODY IN CHECK FOR RAVINDRA JADEJA

In Ravindra Jadeja, India have a world-class accumulator who is no longer in a rush to blast opposition bowlers.

Ravindra Jadeja latest innings
Ravindra Jadeja soaks in the applause for his third Test hundred. (Image: Twitter)

Ravindra Jadeja is a cricketer used to journeys. He has, during an India career that started in 2009, taken a few of them while several times transforming himself. Before the start of the rescheduled fifth and final Test between hosts England and India in Birmingham this week, the previous time a global audience saw Jadeja in action was during the IPL a few months ago, where he looked as far removed from the match-winner we know he can be as Donald Trump was from reality.

Consider for a moment how Jadeja’s cricketing career had panned out in the first six months of 2022. He returned to India colours in February, after missing the tour of South Africa on account of an injury. In March, he displaced Jason Holder to become the top-ranked allrounder in Test cricket after smacking a career-best 175* and claiming nine wickets in one match against Sri Lanka. Some 48 hours before the start of the IPL, he was named captain of Chennai Super Kings. That weighty crown sat heavily on Jadeja, who a month into the tournament relinquished the role amid a personal and team slump. Not long after, a rib injury ruled him out of the IPL.

He returned for the tour of England and scored an unbeaten 56* and took four wickets in the tour match versus Leicestershire. Thus, India repeated their template from the same series in 2021: four pace options and Jadeja as the batsman who bowls spin. The right call, tactically, but given the ups and downs of 2022 you wondered what thoughts swarmed in Jadeja’s head, the fierce competitor he is.

On Friday, while happily leaving the fun and games to Rishabh Pant, Jadeja was a model of seriousness during a partnership of 222 for the sixth wicket. Yes, his driving was wonderful and gaps were perforated regularly and there were more than a few pretty twirls past backward square leg, but Friday’s innings was about understanding the seriousness of the situation and the need to solidify one end while Pant engaged in frivolity. Jadeja’s was a case of substance over style, because, well, that is something he has had to learn and hone the hard way.

Ravindra Jadeja Egbaston Test
Ravindra Jadeja bats during the ongoing Edgbaston Test. (Image: Twitter)

Make no mistake – Jadeja can entertain with the best of them. But his role has morphed from lower-order swashbuckler to middle-order bulwark. He bats for time now and shepherds the tail. He has, to use that old cricketing cliche, put a price on his wicket. India have for long searched for a match-winner at No 7, and in Jadeja they now have a world-class accumulator who is no longer in a rush to blast opposition bowlers.

Since the start of 2018, Jadeja averages 47.28 in Test cricket with three hundreds and nine fifties. During this time, no batsman averages more than his 54.50 at No 7 and no one else has scored three hundreds from there. At No 6, Jadeja’s average of 58 since the start of 2018 is comfortably the best with a minimum qualification of four Test matches. These are exemplary numbers and, allied with this wicket-taking skills and terrific fielding, make Jadeja arguably the most important player in this Indian Test team. Such is his all-round value that when he is absent with injury, the balance of the team is severely impacted.

On the second morning, Jadeja was onto the pull in a flash and drove precisely. Yet there was a bit of anxiousness which we didn’t see on Friday. You need luck often in scoring Test centuries and twice Jadeja flirted outside off stump and edged over the slips. First he edged Ben Stokes over the cordon for four, and moments later he poked a ball from Matthew Potts which first and second slip went for, and Joe Root was unable to lock his fingertips on it. That boundary took Jadeja to 96. Next ball, he slapped Potts between cover and point to raise his third Test hundred. As he took off down the pitch, Jadeja pumped a fist and let himself smile.

Jadeja can be a hard man to read, and he rarely looks flustered. He has an ego – all sportsmen do – but it is well hidden; or maybe it is channeled into his appetite for a scrap. So when he beams that pearly white smile from underneath a thick set of facial hair, and then twirls his bat in trademark celebration – what wrists the man has to be able to do that – you cannot but find yourself shaking your head in admiration.

His innings ended on 104 when he swung and missed a ball from James Anderson. Ninth out at 375, having entered at 98/5. Second fiddle to Pant on Friday, inspiration to the tail on Saturday (Mohammed Shami made 16 off 31, Jasprit Bumrah 31 off 16) and India ended with 416. Another invaluable contribution from arguably the most valuable allrounder in the game. Sorry, Stokes.

Thirty-four later this year, Jadeja is in his 13th year of international cricket and this is his 60th Test match. It has been some journey, and with Jadeja you get the sense that there are a few more transformations on the horizon. There is no team in Test cricket that would not want an allrounder of Jadeja’s value. And that, folks, is the real measure of the man’s worth.

Written by Jamie Alter

Sports writer, author, actor, anchor, digital content creator and TedX Talks speaker.

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