A long home season beckoned India, and Ravindra Jadeja was less than pleased when he had to leave his beloved horses behind and make the trip to the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. But there was work to be done. Even Jadeja did not know just how much.
While he has always been accurate, Jadeja was slowly acquiring a reputation of being a great bad-wicket bowler who was merely steady on other surfaces. Jadeja, it was felt, was truly effective only when bowling straight on rank turners. This, of course, was not true, but as the high and mighty like to put it, perception matters as much as reality.
So Jadeja showed up at the door of Narendra Hirwani, a bowler so rustic and self-tutored that he has become something of a master in the art of coaching spinners. Hirwani’s first task was to get Jadeja bowling a lot. International cricketers can occasionally be a pampered lot, protected in the nets and not bowled too much because there is so much actual matchplay happening these days.
But Hirwani is nothing if not old school, and he started Jadeja off bowling at a single stump, wicketkeeper in place, and no batsman. After making sure the shoulder was properly exhausted, Hirani gave Jadeja a run in a proper net, and then finally out in the middle in match simulation.
The exercise laid bare the problem Jadeja was facing. While his stock ball was a thing of metronomical efficiency, any attempt to vary the pace – while still landing the ball on the same line and length – resulted in a discernible change in arm speed. If I can see it from 50 yards away, you can bet the batsman can pick it up even faster from front on.
Now that the challenge had been identified, the mentor encouraged the pupil to try and find a solution. Jadeja began by throwing the ball, at pace, and slower, at different trajectories and the answer came to him: all he need to do was work on his grip, and the action he put on it with his fingers, to make it go through at different pace with the same arm speed. This might seem blindingly obvious in retrospect, but the process that led to Jadeja’s Eureka moment was a vital one.
It showed Jadeja that he had not only the skill and physical ability to bowl a ball, he had the tools and the wherewithal to improve himself as a cricketer. Tireless bowling followed, and the results were there for all to see.
For starters, Jadeja was no longer being looked at only as someone who could tie one end down and bowl dry spells, building pressure for others to reap the rewards. A more self-aware Jadeja also became significantly better at plotting a batsman’s downfall, at setting up his quarry.
Through the course of the season, Jadeja has had success against all opposition on all surfaces, and one of the reasons for this is his ability to adapt quickly to the requirements of a situation. On a rank turner, he will toss one into the rough and allow it to turn big, putting doubt in the batsman’s mind before nailing him with a straight one. On better surfaces, Jadeja slowly shifted from a straight line to a wider one, drawing the batsman across and forcing him to play away from the body, inducing the outside edge. Hell, Jadeja has even managed to buy a big wicket with the dipping full toss!
In all, Jadeja has 108 scalps from 20 home Tests at 19.87 at last count. Of that, 73 sticks have come in the last season. While R Ashwin has won more Man-of-the-Match, and Man-of-the-Series awards, Jadeja has been as effective as you would want a frontline spinner to be in these conditions.
Initially, the cricket world made the mistake of thinking Jadeja was a batsman who could bowl a bit, flattered as his record is by two Ranji Trophy triple-centuries. In the shorter version of the game, the myth was propagated further, and perhaps Jadeja started believing it a bit himself, if subconsciously.
Now, though, Jadeja has rediscovered himself, and that sense of purpose is tangible whenever he takes the field. And, as is so often the case in cricket, Jadeja’s revival with the ball has rubbed off on his batting, where the runs are beginning to come more readily and often.
(This article was first published on The Scroll