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Jadeja carves a niche
From being one of the most lampooned players on social media not too long ago to becoming one of the most loved characters in the Indian team, Jadeja’s journey from the dry and dusty maidans of Rajkot to top-flight international cricket has been fascinating.
With an ability to bat effectively lower down the order and the skill and smartness to bowl tidy overs to accompany his acrobatic fielding, Jadeja was a made-to-order player for the shorter version of cricket. While he has been a must in the limited-overs’ scheme of things for some time now, how well he has managed to make himself almost inevitable for Tests at home is a compelling story.
Jadeja’s success in the longer format, especially while playing at home, lies in his ability to keep his game as uncomplicated as possible. He has replicated his limited-overs bowling method, which is containing runs, in Test cricket to reap bigger benefits. He has tried to imbibe a few variations like bowling slower through the air and giving more flight on occasion but his core strength remains the same - his relentless accuracy irrespective of the conditions.
While his average at home is 19.87 runs per wicket as opposed to 41.80 in away conditions, his economy rate doesn’t change much - 2.15 runs per over at home to 2.60 while bowling away. What that means is while he may not always bag wickets in a heap, the Saurashtra bowler doesn’t either gift the rival batsmen easy runs. The squeeze he applies almost always benefits the bowler at the other end.
Just to drive home this point, consider the latest instance. During Australia’s chase of India’s small but tricky target of 188 in the second Test, every time the tourists appeared to score freely, Jadeja put the brake on them. His three spells in that innings read thus: 1-1-0-0, 5-3-2-0 and 3-1-3-1. The pressure created by him by drying up runs helped his senior spin partner R Ashwin run through Aussie line-up at the other end with a six-wicket haul. This is not to suggest that Ashwin on his own isn’t capable of taking wickets but the prolific off-spinner would be the first one to admit that the presence of Jadeja at the other end, gives him the luxury to bowl the way he wants to. It allows Ashwin to bowl attacking lines on a consistent basis.
"Obviously as a bowler he wants to pick up as many wickets as he can,” Kohli had said about Jadeja after wrapping up England series 4-0. "But if you see, every time Ashwin has picked up wickets, the economy rate from the other end is not more than two. Ashwin will himself tell you that Jadeja has played a massive role in him making those breakthroughs because there are literally no runs from both ends. They have bowled brilliantly in partnership for us this whole season.”
The stats prove Kohli’s claim. Having returned to the fold for the home series against South Africa, Jadeja has been as crucial in India’s rise to No 1 spot as an Ashwin or a Kohli. In 15 Tests at home since his comeback at Mohali against SA in November 2015 after getting the axe following the tour of Australia where he didn’t feature in a single Test, Jadeja has collected 81 scalps at 19.88 with an economy rate of 2.20. During the same period, Ashwin is ahead but not by miles. He has 107 sticks in 15 Tests at 20.09 (economy 2.68).
Another fine quality of Jadeja that often goes unnoticed is the rapid pace at which he finishes his over. On the fourth day -- which turned out to be the final day -- of the second Test, Jadeja took just two minutes to complete his over which allowed Ashwin to squeeze in one more over before tea. The Aussies, down five wickets already, were under pressure and obviously didn’t want another over but they had to face. Matthew Wade fell in that over to Ashwin.
Once branded the bad-wicket bowler, Jadeja is slowly but surely is getting rid of that image. Against England he claimed 28 wickets in five Tests on pitches that were far from being called rank turners. In the final Test in Chennai, where England made 400-plus and India scored over 700 runs in reply in their respective first innings, Jadeja bagged his best (in the second) innings figures (7/48) and best match-haul (10/154) to set up an innings win by India.
In fact he struggled make an impact on Pune’s raging turner in the first Test of the ongoing series but managed a six-for in the first innings in Bengaluru on a surface where both spinners and pacers tasted success.
"We don’t rely on Jadeja as a bad-wicket bowler, he is a perfect bowler in any conditions in Test cricket,” Kohli had stressed. "He is accurate and that’s what you need in Test cricket. You don’t necessarily need to have too many variations at your disposal. His strength is bowling at a nice pace, not giving too much air to the ball and making the batsman think about how long they can defend. That’s his strength. On any wicket in the world, if you are bowling that accurately for a long time, invariably the batsman will make a mistake. That’s what we have always banked upon as far as Jadeja is concerned. We as a team, always believed in him a lot that he always gives the side the balance that we require of him in Test matches,” he had explained.