Ravindra Jadeja slashed and cut through the Australian batting line-up in Delhi as if they were made of clay and he was wielding a real sword instead of a leather ball.
The above or any kind of a mention of a sword and Jadeja in the same sentence doesn’t feel odd anymore. It’s not only because of his milestone celebrations while batting but also because of how he cuts through batting units like they were soft butter.
He picked up 7 wickets faster than any Aussie could say Ravindrasinh Jadeja. Even with the bat, his performance has become such that he’s guarding a fort during an enemy’s siege.
In fact, he has been so good with both the bat and the ball in recent years, that it's almost imperative that we ask these questions - Is Ravindra Jadeja the greatest all-rounder India has ever produced?
Can we take his name alongside the great all rounders of the game like Botham, Kallis and Dev? Numbers do answer that question. It’s time that we start acknowledging that as well.
A Batting Career of Two Halves
When Jadeja arrived at the Test level, he was a bowling all-rounder who was an absolute menace with the ball in helpful conditions. His bowling was his stronger suit, as he dismissed visiting batters at home as if he’s swatting flies on a hot summer afternoon.
However with the bat, let’s just say this - he was like an overactive toddler who had fun playing for a while but would get distracted as quickly as he got interested. If it was a prolonged innings filled with attrition that you needed, he certainly wasn’t your man. Building an innings Test match style was as alien to him as following someone on Instagram (he follows exactly 0 people there)
In his first 26 innings at the highest level of international cricket as a batter, his highest score was 68. In none of his initial five seasons of Test cricket, could he average more than 22.5 with the bat. In this initial period, whenever he was dropped from white ball sides, he used to go back to domestic cricket and hit a triple century and make it back to the side riding on those runs.
Commentators mentioning his triples to hype up his batting abilities almost became a running joke after a point. In fact, his famous sword celebration after getting those 50s started feeling over the top as he wasn’t getting any centuries, and cricket lacked any precedence of a flashy celebration without a three-figure mark.
But everything changed with his batting in 2018. The Indian team management wasn’t happy with his fun fifties. They knew he had the defensive game to play long innings. Even he knew that he had it in him to build an innings. It wasn’t his identical twin that got those triples after all.
He showed that ability in red-ball cricket by scoring his maiden hundred at his home ground in Rajkot against the West Indies that year. It was the beginning of the era of Ravindra Jadeja - the all-rounder.
Jadeja, the batter, was never the same since 2018. He was not only getting the crucial runs down the order at home, but was playing crucial innings in tough conditions as well. By the time he finished a decade in Test cricket in 2022, he had a hundred and three fifties in England. He was not only scoring runs, but was batting long as well. In fact, his batting became such a plus for the Indian side that they started dropping Ashwin and played him as the sole spinner overseas.
With time he became so indispensable to the team’s balance overseas, that his absence was touted as one of the key reasons India couldn’t win the closely fought Test series in South Africa.
The all-rounded artistry
The measure of any Test all-rounder worth their salt is if they can take a five wicket haul and score a century in the same game. Jadeja is one of those.
As a bowler, he was always capable of a fifer in any Test match. In fact, in a career where it was thought he’ll be overshadowed by Ashwin’s spin, he not only has made his own name, but has done it with immense panache. He has the best bowling average amongst all left-arm spinners who have taken at least 150 wickets. If one includes spinners of all types in this assessment, his average of 23.82 is just behind Jim Laker and Muttiah Muralitharan.
Since 2018, his batting numbers have massively improved as already shown above. Currently, his batting average stands at 36.9, rising significantly in recent years with him averaging more than 46 with the bat. A century by him is no more a novelty. It has become an expectation.
While comparing all-rounders, the difference between the batting and bowling averages gives a good idea about the quality of all-rounders. The table above shows the list of currently active all-rounders with the highest average difference.
No one even comes close to Jadeja here. Deservingly, he is the best all-rounder in the world, and in ICC rankings as well. In fact these numbers are so great, that when he completed a double of 250 wickets and 2500 runs in Test cricket, he was the second fastest all-rounder ever to achieve that, just behind Sir Ian Botham.
When compared with other all-rounders who have taken 250 wickets and scored 2500 runs in Test cricket and their numbers arranged in descending order of average difference, he is right up there with the best all-rounders in the 145 year history of Test cricket.
Who would have thought that this guy from Rajkot who couldn’t hit a hundred until he was more than 5 years into his Test career, would end up just behind all time greats Jacques Kallis and Imran Khan? Actually with the way he’s been batting, it won’t be an exaggeration to predict that his batting average might cross 40 by the time he retires, and that he’ll remove Imran from the second spot in the above list.
The final verdict
For an all-rounder who was once reduced to being called a bits and pieces cricketer at the international level, he has surely come a long way in his career for his name to be taken in the same breath as Kallis, Botham and Imran.
His achievements with the bat and bowl are so stratospheric, that it’s even easy to forget how he’s one of the best fielders in the world. He is not only the best Test all-rounder India has ever produced, but his numbers prove he’s amongst the best all-rounders Test cricket has ever seen.
Jadeja is no-longer just an all-time great on the basis of his potential, he is an all-time great on the basis of his performance. If you don’t take notice, why are you here anyway?
*Stats input from Anirudh Kasargod