He rides horses, he plays with swords, he owns a restaurant, oh and he bats, bowls and fields well enough to turn a Test match on its head. What’s not to like about Ravindra Jadeja? For years Jadeja had to put up with cruel ridicule from fans who thought this creature was more strange than wonderful. Was he a bowler who could bat a bit? Was he a batsman who might chip in with the ball? Those questions and several others were answered in Dharamsala on Monday, when Jadeja came up with the kind of performance worthy of any allrounder worth his name, and tipped the scales firmly in India’s favour.
When the first rays of sunshine hit the Dhauladhar range that dwarves the stadium, the game was evenly poised. India, trailing by 52 runs, with only four wickets in hand, were in serious danger of being put on the mat on a pitch that was still firm and true. Pat Cummins, steam coming out his ears with the effort he was putting in, had Jadeja caught behind off the first ball. Or so he, and umpire Marais Erasmus thought. Sure he had not made contact, Jadeja reviewed and videos showed daylight between bat and ball.
It is in moments such as these, seemingly innocuous, even fortuitous that talent gets the inspiration it needs to decide what to do with the empty canvas in front of it. Jadeja chose attack over defence, knowing full well that he was going to be peppered with short stuff. What Australia’s bowlers did not know, however, was the time Jadeja spent at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore with batting coach WV Raman, an irresistible left-hand batsman back in the day. The first step was getting clarity, and coach and pupil together arrived at the conclusion that crease occupation was not what the team was likely to want from Jadeja, and that the position he batted in left him with a good chance of reaching the crease when the second new ball was in hand.
To that end, Jadeja was fired a series of bouncers with the speed gun set to nasty mode, and it became clear that his technique was not best suited to rising on toes and dropping the ball deftly to safety. With that out of the way, Jadeja pulled and hooked, hooked and pulled till the shot became second nature to him.
After seeing an early spell from the quicks off, Jadeja, with Wriddhiman Saha keeping him good company, took on the spinners. Both Nathan Lyon and Steve O’ Keefe were smacked for sixes over long-on and the runs suddenly began to flow. By the time Jadeja had his sword-twirling celebration out to mark his half-century, India were ahead, and Australia were getting positively desperate.
Steve Smith returned to his quick bowlers and Cummins got a brute to rear sharply enough to smack Jadeja on the helmet. Two balls later, another bouncer, this time hooked sweetly for four in front of square. Cummins tried again and again the rapier was out, and even if the ball was sliced a touch, there was enough on it to sail over long leg for six.
By the time Jadeja (63) was done, and India ended on 332, they were well ahead of the game. Australia, who have fought tooth and nail all series, were far from waving the white flag, but Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had decided that this was their time. Yadav, who has been India’s most improved cricketer this season, comfortably managed to get more from the conditions than his Australian counterparts, having the batsmen hopping before removing both openers.
If you had to find one grouse with India’s bowlers, despite all the success they have had this series, it is that they have not quite worked out what to do with Smith, whose fidgety, shuffling leg-side heavy batsmanship has defied all conventional modes of attack. On the day, Smith, certainly due a failure if such a thing as the Law of Averages actually exists, provided the answer. Being in such a rich vein of form, Smith instinctively pulled Bhuvneshwar, only to curse his sodden luck as the ball crashed into the stumps.
With Smith gone, the slice of luck coming to India like a gift hamper a week before Christmas, the game changed. Jadeja cut the lower middle-order to ribbons, picking up three wickets, and R Ashwin, bowling superbly despite being desperately tired, matched his mate. Knocked over for 137, India motored to 19 without loss, leaving themselves with 87 to get and two days to spare.
On a day peppered with heated on-field exchanges that spilled over to the dressing-room from which Smith blurted out expletives, Jadeja lightened the mood at the end of the day. Claiming his shoulder was on “auto mode” and did the job without him even having to try. This Indian team will know, however, that they have to be fully switched on, even if they are on the verge of sealing a famous series win.
(This article first appeared in the Economic Times on March 28, 2017)