At the start of India’s long and arduous home season, all talk much around rank-turners, Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin. Ashwin has been a phenomenon, picking 94 wickets in 16 matches and being the fastest to 250 test wickets. But another man has hunted in his shadows and is slowly carving a niche for himself as another standout performer, Ravindra Jadeja.
Both Ashwin and Jadeja jointly occupy the zenith of the ICC Bowler’s Rankings. Rightly so, they bowl in tandem complementing each other. When Ashwin’s economy rate doesn’t make for decent viewing, Jadeja slows down the pace of the opposition with his accurate bowling. A right-arm off spinner and a left-arm leg-spinner bowling from opposite ends is every team’s nightmare, England and New Zealand would know better. But the Chennai test against England and the current series against Australia have seen Jadeja come into his own, playing the role of an economical wicket-poacher to perfection.
When Virat Kohli let Karun Nair play on and make a triple hundred in the final session on day four of the Chennai test and England played on till lunch on Day 5 without the loss of a wicket, a draw looked imminent. Jadeja had different plans, though. He owned the next two sessions, taking career best figures of 7-48 in 25 as India dug out a win to clinch the series 4-0. His tally in the series was 26, just two short of Ashwin’s 28.
He has 16 wickets in 5 innings in this series so far. A lot was expected from the Jadeja in Pune but he couldn’t exploit the conditions like his Australian counterparts. He produced a top notch effort in the first innings at Bengaluru, picking up 6-63. He was under-bowled on Day 2 when he picked up 3 wickets in spite of bowling only 15 overs of the day’s quota. He polished off the Australian tail quickly the following morning and ensured that India trailed by less than a 100. His contribution to the win was as important as Ashwin’s in the subsequent innings. Yesterday at Ranchi, he produced another masterclass, picking up 5 Australian wickets on the second morning and finishing with 5-124 after 49.3 overs, a herculean effort. He overtook Ashwin as the leading wicket-taker in this series with 17 wickets.
Jadeja is known for his exuberance on the field, and he’s supporting his growing reputation with match-winning efforts. He is an excellent fielder too, take for example the brilliant backwards running catch against England or the quick Dhoniesque run-out to skittle out the Australian innings.
Jadeja’s finger spin is what makes him lethal on pitches which don’t have much for spinners in it. The Ranchi pitch isn’t a turner by any means, yet he kept the batsmen guessing with his variations. Glen Maxwell, who scored his maiden century in the first innings commented, “He was hitting a consistent spot where, if it skidded on straight it was hitting the stumps, and if it spun you were a chance to nick it. It was just an awkward length. It took him a while to find that length against us. We were able to find singles and manipulate the field a bit yesterday afternoon but today he was pretty accurate”. Former Australian Captain Michael Clarke, who was dismissed by Jadeja 5 times out of 6 when Australia last toured India tweeted, “Once again 5 wickets for Jadeja, on a wicket that hasn’t had much spin or bounce in this first innings he has been a class above”.
The only aspect of his game he needs to improve is his batting. An average of 25.94 after 29 matches with a top score of 90 doesn’t do justice to a player with 3 first-class triple centuries. He did hit a fifty today, his 54 runs coming at almost a run a ball which ensured India stretched their lead above 150. However, Jadeja must mix his natural attacking game with caution if the situation demands.
Australia batted for only 7.2 overs in their second innings, and Jadeja who has picked up 2-6 in just 3.2 overs, looks set for much more tomorrow. His performances prove that he’s matured tremendously as a player. If he continues in the same vein, Ashwin-Jadeja will find a name at the top of the most feared spin-twins of all time. As for Sir Ravindrasinh Jadeja, he has many more landmarks to scale.