Miguel Cummins perhaps would have been justified if he stopped in his tracks and went “Seriouss?” like they do in the Caribbean when faced with something rather astonishing. This was nothing short of shocking. For, at the other end, Kedar Jadhav, who’s not the most vertically endowed of batsmen and half the height of the fast bowler approaching him, was already on his haunches. He wasn’t just laying his cards on the table but also shouting out his next move.
This is not how fast bowlers get treated in the West Indies, after all. And till the time Jadhav walked out to the middle, Friday’s play had more or less been a charming throwback to the days when the status quo between bat and ball was a lot different in the Caribbean.
There was considerable bounce on offer on the pitch at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium even if it was a little sluggish in pace. And the Indians were on the hop and the scoring rate pedestrian. Earlier in the day, Shikhar Dhawan had been dismissed by a short ball while Cummins almost had Virat Kohli’s number with a steepling bouncer that left the Indian captain completely out of sorts. A West Indian pace battery was bullying a bunch of hapless tourists from the subcontinent, and even if there weren’t too many at the stadium to witness the show, it seemed like cricket in the Caribbean again or how it used to be. Cummins, Jason Holder and even Kesrick Williams had managed to push Indian batsmen into taking evasive action on a few occasions, and that too as they stood on the back foot.
But here was diminutive Jadhav, putting his body in front of the stumps, as if he was expecting the ball to roll along the ground. Cummins went through with his action, for the record, but so put off was he by the sight at the other end that rather than aim for the body, he dished out a length delivery outside off-stump. It was just what Jadhav was looking for, and he swept it over the square-leg fielder for four. Suddenly it was Jadhav who was dictating terms. On a pitch where the rest of the Indian batsmen had plodded and squeezed their way through, Jadhav was flowing.
At the other end, MS Dhoni had taken off too. Like most of India’s batting line-up before Jadhav, Dhoni too had struggled to come to terms with the conditions, and twice before Jadhav came on to the scene had nearly thrown his wicket away while attempting shots that could be best described as desperate. India had started slowly and their progress only got more and more staid with Ajinkya Rahane and Dhoni having to steady the ship. The run rate languished well below 4-an-over between the 6th and the 43rd overs, a rare occurrence in modern-day ODI cricket. And at one stage during the Dhoni-Rahane partnership, India were in a position where they needed to go really hard to even get near 230, despite having six wickets in the bag. They eventually ended with 251, thanks mainly to Jadhav and Dhoni who added 81 off 46 balls, a partnership which was as unorthodox as the early half had been conservative.
If Dhoni was considered a pioneer in terms of changing the manner in which a cricket ball can be hit a decade earlier, then Jadhav is taking that art to new realms of possibilities. His sweep shot of Cummins was but one example. He had earlier swept a full-toss from Jason Holder before cross-batting a slower delivery from Williams over the deep-midwicket fence. This was cavalier batting of a brutal kind. And the West Indians had no answers. Kohli had spoken only this Sunday about how India’s approach towards going for the jugular would depend a lot on the exposure Jadhav and Hardik Pandya get while batting under the pump. The late surge here from Jadhav, who now averages 61.66 with a strike rate of 125.28, was the perfect illustration of that.
Kohli has also spoken about the emergence of Pandya and Jadhav along with the return of Yuvraj making Dhoni’s life easier in the middle order. Dhoni’s unbeaten 74 off 78 was a knock in two parts. There was the first 50 that took 66 balls and was scratchy beyond recognition. Rarely has the former Indian captain scored an ODI fifty that has seemed so unmemorable. And then came the explosion. It started with two straight sixes off Holder. The first was vintage Dhoni – the bat-swing perfect and the ball sent towering over the bowler’s head. The second was more engineered, as he moved across his stumps and shovelled a length delivery outside off-stump over square-leg for a six that hardly seemed to be too far off the ground. It was a crucial assault both in terms of the Indian innings and Dhoni’s relevance in the present ODI set-up even if it was Jadhav and his brazen ingenuity that stole the show.
Brief Scores: India 251/4 in 50 overs (MS Dhoni 78 not out, K Jadhav 40 not out) vs WI.