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Back at the expense of in-form Axar, Jadeja needs to justify his T20I selection

Last updated on 08 Dec 2023 | 10:10 AM
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Back at the expense of in-form Axar, Jadeja needs to justify his T20I selection

With the T20WC just over six months away, there are plenty of questions surrounding Jadeja’s batting

It’s been 465 days since Ravindra Jadeja last played a T20 International for India.

In the same duration, Axar Patel has played 25 T20Is and has, in particular, been mighty impressive in 2023, having taken 11 wickets in 12 innings at an E.R of 7.1 while simultaneously averaging 27.14 with the bat at a strike rate of 157.

India triumphed 4-1 over Australia earlier this week and there, apart from being the joint second-highest wicket-taker, Axar maintained an economy of 6.20 in a series in which the overall scoring rate was 9.66.

Yet in just over two days’ time, in India’s penultimate bilateral assignment ahead of the T20 World Cup in June, it’s Jadeja who will be featuring in the starting XI as the premier all-rounder at No.7, with Axar being left out of the squad altogether.

With just over six months to go for the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean & United States, the move seems to be the clearest indication, yet, that it is Jadeja whom the management see as first-choice for the mega event, which will predominantly be played on surfaces that are tired and slow.

Is the call right? Wrong? Fair? Unjust? That is a debate for another day. 

But Jadeja has been backed over the in-form Axar, and the onus is now on the veteran to prove that he warrants a spot in the first XI as the bowling all-rounder at No.7. 

Not too long ago, Jadeja’s bowling in white-ball cricket, particularly T20 cricket, was seen as a concern. But that is no longer the case. 

Seven months ago, the 35-year-old enjoyed his best ever season with the ball in the IPL, taking 20+ wickets in a campaign for the first time in his career while maintaining an economy of 7.56. 

IPL 2023 itself settled all doubts about Jadeja’s effectiveness with the ball in white-ball cricket, but his showing in the 50-over World Cup made it clear that his limited-overs bowling has indeed gone up a notch.

At the World Cup, Jadeja proved to be one of the most difficult spinners to be put away, recording an E.R of 4.3, the second-best among all spinners. He also conceded just 34 boundaries in total, again the second-best among spinners who sent down at least 75 overs. 

So in the form he is in, and with the experience he possesses, it is easy to see why the management see him as an integral part of the starting XI in the T20WC on tracks where finger-spin will prove to be king, despite his evident lack of games in the shortest format.

Bowling-wise, Jadeja walks into the Indian XI, for there are none better — Axar included, even in the form he is in. 

However, when it comes to Jadeja, it is the batting side of things that are a major concern, and it is on this front that he’ll have to prove that he can do a valiant job for the side down the order.

In the IPL 2023 final in Ahmedabad, Jadeja famously smashed 10 off the final 2 balls to take CSK to a record-equalling fifth title but that cameo in the grand finale masked an otherwise-ordinary tournament with the bat for the left-hander. 

Predominantly batting at No.7, Jadeja’s role was to play small-but-explosive cameos but the left-hander could only strike at 142.86 despite walking out to bat in the 15th over or later a staggering 10/12 times. 

In IPL 2023, he faced 111 balls in the death overs (16-20) and scored only 164 runs, hitting a six only every 14 balls. 

Among batters who faced 100+ balls at the death in the competition, Jadeja was, by some distance, the worst in terms of explosiveness, registering the lowest strike rate (147.8), the least number of boundaries (18) and the worst balls-per-six ratio (13.9).

You can always let one bad tournament slide, but Jadeja’s returns with the bat in the shortest format have been concerning for a while now.

Since the start of 2022, the 35-year-old has batted 30 times in all T20s and has managed to register a strike rate of just 135.9. 

It is a far cry from the explosive numbers he posted across 2020 & 2021, where he struck at 157.3 in 27 innings.

The biggest drop has been his ability to put the foot down at the death, in the 16-20 phase: his strike rate has reduced by more than 40.

But not just T20s, Jadeja’s hitting ability has evidently declined also in ODIs: since the start of 2022, he’s struck at just 73.24 in 50-over cricket, hitting just 5 sixes in 471 balls despite playing 85% of his innings at No.7. 

India’s top-order took care of business in the World Cup in nearly every game, but when the side needed Jadeja to step up with the bat in the final, he was unable to do it. Not only did Jadeja only manage 9, he took 22 balls for the said runs before being undone by Josh Hazlewood from ‘round the wicket.

Notwithstanding the format, Jadeja’s general ability to accelerate and explode has been a major cause for concern, of late. Factor in his inability to take on spin, things get even more complicated.

Jadeja has seldom been a weapon of destruction against spin bowling in his career but his numbers against the tweakers have been alarmingly poor for a long while now. 

In all T20s since 2020, the left-hander has faced 192 balls of spin and has registered a dismal strike rate of 90.6. Flabbergastingly enough, in this period, he’s smashed a six just once every 32 balls. 

No.7 batters in T20s are unlikely to face too much spin, but the concern for India is that having Jadeja down the order will make their batting order pretty inflexible. While someone like an Axar could be promoted (or trusted) to take down a favorable match-up, the same cannot be said of Jadeja. 

Plus, the slow nature of the surfaces in Caribbean will see teams deploy plenty of spin towards the back end of games, something that could end up completely neutralising the threat of the left-hander.

With the T20WC just over six months away, the bottomline is that there are still plenty of questions surrounding Jadeja’s batting. 

He is almost certainly the best possible option with the ball that India have, but there is far more to the No.7 role than just bowling. And so across the next few months, it’ll be on Jadeja to show that he can still impact and win matches of cricket with the bat.

Fortunately or otherwise, the veteran has sneaked straight back into the starting XI —  it’s now on him to justify his selection.

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