Ravindra Jadeja - the Test batter, has finally arrived

Jadeja (C) has grown in stature as a Test batter
Jadeja (C) has grown in stature as a Test batter
Shashwat Kumar

19th October, 2006, South Zone and West Zone have assembled to contest a crucial Duleep Trophy fixture at Indore – a fixture that has a galaxy of stars on show. VVS Laxman is leading the South Zone side, Ambati Rayudu is their middle-order enforcer, S Badrinath is their batting glue, and Dinesh Karthik and Robin Uthappa are supposed to throw caution to the wind at the start.

Oh, by the way, their bowling unit comprises a certain Anil Kumble – arguably the greatest Test bowler India has seen all these years. It also houses Lakshmipathy Balaji, Pragyan Ojha and S Sreesanth – cricketers who would, at some point, distinguish themselves in international cricket.

West Zone, meanwhile, don’t have as many superstars in their ranks. But they have a pretty decent team themselves. Cheteshwar Pujara is opening the batting, Rohit Sharma is manning the No.3 spot, Amol Muzumdar is hoping to plunder even more First-Class runs and Parthiv Patel is looking to make a Test spot his own (again).

On the bowling front, Zaheer Khan’s name stands out. Sairaj Bahutule and Siddharth Trivedi arguably don’t have as much pedigree as their counterparts, but have been consistent domestic performers.

Among all this fanfare, though, there is an unassuming teenager who has also found himself in the playing eleven. Prior to this game, he has not played a single First-Class match. And, here he is now, longing to leave a mark on his FC debut – that too in front of illustrious company.

Quite a few at the venue have heard about this precocious youngster. Word of mouth is that he is quite a three-dimensional cricketer. He can whack runs lower down the order, zip through overs of left-arm spin and is probably one of the quickest fielders India has ever produced.

Yet, much of it is conjecture. This boy aka Ravindra Jadeja, is only 17 years old, after all. And, despite the murmurs about his talent, he seems a little out of place.

South Zone bat first and post a healthy total on the board. Jadeja, who had been cast as a potential bowling option, only sends down 4.2 overs and concedes 19 runs. More worryingly, though, he isn’t looked upon as a primary spinner, meaning that the attention turns towards his batting.

West Zone, unlike South Zone, find themselves in a bit of strife. Run-scoring has become harder and they aren’t able to handle the bowling riches their rivals have. So, when Jadeja walks out to bat, there is enormous pressure on him. West Zone have stuttered and stumbled to 100/5. Jacob Martin departs soon after and leaves them staring down the abyss at 112/6.

At that stage, it would have been very easy for Jadeja to wilt, even using his debut as an excuse for not performing. But he doesn’t. Back then, it left even the most ardent watcher spellbound. Remember, this was a 17-year-old with no prior experience of First-Class cricket and he was still finding ways to counter-punch.

He ultimately scored 53 off 49 balls and led West Zone to some sort of respectability. That, however, was followed by another indifferent bowling spell (27-0-80-0) in the second innings, meaning that many weren’t convinced with what he brought to the fore.

They were impressed, make no mistake about it. They liked the grit, the determination and the strokes he portrayed but felt he had too many bits and pieces to become a specialist in either suit.

A few years later (2011 & 2012) to be precise, Jadeja put those doubts to bed. In a 12-month span, Jadeja plundered three triple hundreds in the Ranji Trophy – a feat that even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have never accomplished.

Thus, it was only fitting that Jadeja, who had already cast himself into the Indian white-ball setup, was selected for his Test bow, based on his bowling exploits. There wasn’t much wrong in it too, considering his style of bowling is tailor-made for Indian pitches and he can, more often than not, single-handedly win games of cricket with the ball.

The knock-on effect, though, was that countless individuals stopped believing in his batting abilities. He might have as well, considering he couldn’t fulfill his batting potential in his early international years.

But somewhere since July 2018, he seems to have flicked a switch – a switch he always knew he had but one that he needed to tell the world he was good enough for international cricket.

To say that Jadeja has always been touted for greatness wouldn’t be correct. At different junctures, there have been ex-players and pundits who have suggested he just doesn’t have the specialization to thrive in Test cricket.

Some, however, like the late great Shane Warne, always understood his worth. For those unaware, the former Australian leg-spinner named Jadeja a “rockstar” during their time together at the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL. While many were debating what Jadeja’s strongest suit actually was, Warne believed that he could win a game with the bat, with the ball and of course, in the field.

He loved you Jaddu. Remember the time in '08 at the DY Patil Stadium....He called you over and said to me "This kid is a rockstar". We chatted more than once about you and he was very fond of you and of Yusuf.…

Hence, it feels poetic that a day after the Australian left for heavenly abode, Jadeja produced a Test knock that will, much like Warne’s legacy, survive the ravages of time and existence.

Ravindra Jadeja creamed his way to 175* against Sri Lanka

When the left-handed batter strode out to bat against Sri Lanka at Mohali, India were enduring a bit of a wobble. They had lost Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant was yet to open up his shoulders. Another wicket at that point would’ve injected more wind into the Sri Lankan sails and might have pushed the hosts onto the back foot.

Jadeja didn’t let any of that happen. He buckled down at the start, barely broke a sweat and then unfurled his repertoire of strokes as time ticked by. There were cuts, there were pulls, there were mows over cow corner, there were dabs past third man, there were cover drives, there were straight drives and above all, there were plenty of runs – 175 of them.

A lot of people, including the vast majority of the cricket-watching population in India, didn’t believe Jadeja was capable of such brilliance. They had seen glimpses in domestic cricket but international cricket is supposed to be a different kettle of fish, right?

For large swathes of his essay, though, it felt as if Jadeja was batting at Rajkot – uncluttered, unfazed by the pressure, and understanding what his true value actually is.

Since the start of 2020, the all-rounder has taken massive strides as a Test batter. If anything, he has been one of India’s best batters and comfortably qualifies as someone who has had more batting impact during this period some of his more fancied peers. Yet, before the game against Sri Lanka at Mohali happened, there was skepticism around whether he could pile on the big scores like some other top order batters.

This is a serious innings from Jadeja. Hardly ever been troubled and batting with supreme control. No stranger to long innings either, this is his 8th score of 150+

In the past couple of years, there have been plenty of crucial runs – runs that have saved face for India (numerous times) and have allowed them to be in the game, even when not at their best. And now, it seems that those runs can also morph into gigantic knocks – knocks that Jadeja has a knack of producing.

When talking about domestic cricket, the Chennai Super Kings all-rounder already has seven scores in excess of 150. That, in addition to the 175* means that he has eight scores in excess of 150 in FC cricket. For context, Rahane has eight scores in that range. Jadeja was not even considered a proper batter till a couple of years ago.

Jadeja (R) outshone Kohli at Mohali
Jadeja (R) outshone Kohli at Mohali

Interestingly enough, most of those at Chandigarh flogged the IS Bindra Stadium, hoping to see a cricketer who made his FC debut in 2006 and was part of India’s U-19 title-winning side in 2008, bag three figures. What many didn’t expect, though, was that that player would be Jadeja (rather than Kohli).

While a ton for Kohli, considering his recent struggles, would have found a place in cricketing folklore, Jadeja’s essay, at least from a more urgent perspective, might be more pivotal.

In fact, it won’t be a stretch to suggest that this is the purest and most unadulterated version of Jadeja – a version who scores big, takes heaps of wickets, conjures moments of magic on the field and is a genuine match-winner by just being there.

Back in 2006, there were hushed chats about what this dangly but extremely fit youngster could do. Till 2018, India had only found a part of that answer. In 2022, that quandary has been completely solved.

It has taken time, mind you. But as things stand, it feels that the wait could well be worth it!

Edited by Prasen Moudgal


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