At the end of the opening Test at Trent Bridge, Ravindra Jadeja had a chat with his senior team mate in the Saurashtra team, Shitanshu Kotak, a professional club cricketer in England for the last 20 years. The two spoke about playing late to counter reverse swing and the importance of leaving the ball. But realising that the conversation between two old pals had started to sound like dressing-room coach-talk, Jadeja cut it short. “Kotsi, badhu chodu, bus himmat thi ram vu chee.” (Forget everything, I will bat with courage.)
Kotak didn’t make it to Lord’s to watch Jadeja bat as he was busy with his club commitments, but he saw his mate on television. “His batting talent is immense. People don’t know he is very strong on the off-side and he loves batting. But most importantly, he isn’t scared of anyone,” he explains, speaking from Birmingham.
Coming into this Test match, Jadeja needed ‘himmat’ to be his usual fearless self. Lord’s was his biggest challenge as an international cricketer. In Nottingham, he wasn’t among wickets, hadn’t made a significant contribution with bat and, worse, was at the centre of an off-field row. In a couple of days, he was charged with a ‘Level 2’ offense. The rivals hated him and the crowd wasn’t fond of him either. Cricketers look forward to walking out to play at Lord’s, but that dream doesn’t have boos from stands providing the background score. On Day 1, Jadeja copped whistles and jeers. It has continued all through the Test. Today, when he waited at the centre of the pitch to get a replacement helmet after getting hit on the visor by James Anderson, he was booed again. The English bowlers continued to needle him, especially Anderson, and Jadeja was answering them back. More importantly for India, he was also letting his bat do the talking.
New ball welcome
Within minutes of him taking guard, England got the new ball – or, ominously for Jadeja, Anderson got the new ball. Kotak says what Jadeja would have thought at that point. “That’s what we discussed. You can’t let Anderson with the new ball dictate the terms. You need to unsettle him somehow,” he says. So, on Anderson’s second ball, Jadeja charged down the track. He got a couple of runs thus setting the rules of the game.
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Jadeja would stand out of the crease, occasionally dance down the track. Pacers would bowl short to scare him, push him back and then stick to the off-stump line. Attempting this, Anderson’s short ball sent Jadeja’s head spinning, Liam Plunkett gave him a bloody little finger. The bowlers were losing. Jadeja was cover driving, pulling, slashing and eventually forcing Alastair Cook to take Anderson off. ‘Himmat’ had won the battle.
England had tried to wind up Jadeja but it hadn’t worked. Had they checked with someone in the Saurashtra dressing room, they would have known that instigating Ravindra, or any other Jadeja, a community of warriors and rulers, is always counter-productive. His coach from school days in Jamnagar, Mahendrasinh Chauhan, had once spoken about this ‘Jadeja mindset’. “Ravindra plays like a Jadeja. We are a very proud community and have a certain ego.”
The twirling of moustache and the very prominent, all-caps ‘RAJPUT’ on his twitter profile indicates this.
His tough early life has also played a big role in Jadeja getting the ‘himmat’ to face adversity. Humble beginnings, perpetual cash crunch, death of his mother, alone on road at an early age — it all added a certain daredevilry and audacity to his character, something that was evident in his batting today. From driving super-bikes to riding his horses at his farm without saddle or a stirrup, Jadeja can be a batsman with technical flaws but definitely not a weak-hearted cricketer. An old favourite T-shirt that he refuses to part with has a message that says: “You can’t even guess what I have gone through.”
In the dressing room, his is a likeable presence that spreads laughter, though sometimes he goes into a shell. His close friends say his cricket obsession at time gets too overriding. A compulsive cricketer who needs to be dragged from the nets, cricket is central to Jadeja’s life. With the sacrifices that he has made to make it to the big league, he wasn’t backing out or ready to be pushed around. As he reached his half century, from the Lord’s balcony the Indians applauded Jadeja’s valour. The fans who had once written Jadeja as a international misfit were now changing their opinion.
But that’s Jadeja for you, always winning his critics over. In fact, even searching for new hearts to conquer, as an old tweet of his suggests: “Need new haters, the old ones are starting to like me.”