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From mercurial to grafter, Jadeja becomes indispensable for India overseas

Last updated on 04 Jun 2023 | 06:41 AM
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From mercurial to grafter, Jadeja becomes indispensable for India overseas

Only left-hander in the top six, overseas form and fortunes in England provide multiple reasons for Ravindra Jadeja to be considered as the most important player for India in the WTC final

“If I play differently, I won’t get runs,” said Ravindra Jadeja after his first 50-plus Test score in England.

Batting at eight, Jadeja scored a 57-ball 68 in the second innings of the Lord’s Test in 2014. It was a knock that kept everyone on their toes. Jadeja walked out to bat at 203/6, with India leading by only 179. He ran down the track to Moeen Ali when the ball was turning away from him. He found the fortune required to survive and set up India’s only win in the five-match series. Only seven months ago, he was out playing a similar stroke in Durban when India were already in deep waters. 

At the start of his Test career, Jadeja was a mercurial batter. He had scored three triple-hundreds in first-class cricket. However, he showed little signs of translating that in whites for India. 

Almost a decade later, he is a changed cricketer. He has transformed himself into a grafter. A proper innings constructor. He has changed himself so much that even the Jadeja of 2014 won’t identify the Jadeja of 2023. They are two different batters with different approaches towards batting. 

It has been an unexpected transformation. He has now reached a point where it won’t be an exaggeration to call him the most reliable Indian batter outside the subcontinent. Yes, there has been Rishabh Pant, but his batting has more chances to give you a heart attack than a sense of security. 

This security has been vital for India in overseas conditions. The Men in Blue missed him dearly in South Africa when they flunked a 1-0 lead to lose 1-2. 

Jadeja’s necessity has risen due to the top-order turning fragile. India’s top order has middling numbers outside the subcontinent since 2018. No Indian batter who bats in the top five regularly has averaged above 40 in SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) along with West Indies. 

Rohit Sharma does average 43.2 as an opener in this duration, but largely, the top five haven’t done their job consistently enough. Jadeja, meanwhile, has put on the rescue act many times. 

Jadeja was batting at number eight when he scored an unbeaten 86 at the Oval in 2018. That was the first time he showcased his mettle as a grafter in overseas conditions. Walking in at 160/6, his knock restricted England’s first innings lead to 40. For the first 100 balls in the innings, Jadeja’s strike-rate was under 50. 

In Melbourne in 2020, he batted for nearly four hours to score 57, allowing his skipper Ajinkya Rahane to forge a hundred from the other end.

Also, consider his last Test in England. This time, the all-rounder batted four and a half hours to score 104. His partnership with Rishabh Pant, another centurion, ushered India from 98/5 to a total of 416 in the first innings. 

The Oval Test in 2018, which marked the arrival of Jadeja, the Test batter, was the fifth Test of the series. The Saurashtra born was dropped for the first four games. Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya were preferred over him as all-rounders. Even Kuldeep Yadav was picked ahead of him as the second spinner in Lord’s. The reasoning was quite practical too. He was a handy batter and an outstanding spinner on turning tracks. But outside the subcontinent, both attributes suffered. 

Prior to the Oval Test, Jadeja averaged 29.2 with the bat. In Asia, he averaged 33.6. Outside Asia, only 20.6. The numbers have improved drastically now. 

Since the Oval Test, Jadeja has the fifth most runs in Tests batting at six or lower. Among the 11 batters to score 1,000 runs or more on this criteria, he is the only one to average over 50. His overall average is nearing 36 - 35.9. 

This batting surge has helped Jadeja as much as India. His bowling outside the subcontinent has always been subpar. But the batting now keeps him relevant and quite significant in Test cricket. He is India’s only all-format player. 

The Indian management realizes his importance to the side. Hence, his presence keeps Ashwin on the bench in overseas Tests. With Pant still recovering from the repercussions of a terrible car accident, he is India’s most critical player heading into the World Test Championship final against Australia at the Oval. 

India will be heading into the contest with no warm-up games. Barring Cheteshwar Pujara, everyone else is coming from a two-month-long IPL season. India's record in ICC events immediately after an IPL season isn’t good. And the top order is vulnerable in the English conditions, let alone against the Australian seam attack. 

If India’s last Test series is anything to go by, the lower order will need to step up again. There is no Pant, and Axar Patel is likely to miss out. Only one of Ashwin and Shardul Thakur will play. The wicket-keeper will be either KS Bharat or Ishan Kishan. None of them have played Test cricket in England. Bharat has played one red-ball game in England for the India A side. Thus, Jadeja’s batting and economical bowling, if required, will be indispensable to India’s second attempt at this trophy. Not to forget, he is supposed to be the only left-hander in India’s top six. 

ALSO READ: The lower-order has bailed India out often — but that might not happen in the final

England has been an important cog in Jadeja’s career. In 2014 in Lord’s, he scored his first Test fifty. In 2018, he surfaced as a Test batter. In the 2019 World Cup semi-final, on being questioned about his role in the side, the southpaw delivered one of the most astonishing all-round performances of the competition and hasn't looked back since. 2022 marked his first Test hundred overseas. Not to forget the 2013 Champions Trophy, where he was the tournament's highest wicket-taker.

Jadeja has always taken something fruitful from England. Can it be the silverware now?

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