Kedar Jadhav vividly remembers the way his chest swelled with pride when he pulled on the blue India shirt during an India A game. India A were supposed to have been playing in different apparel in the game in Delhi in January but a last-minute logistics muddle had ensured that Indias second string side would wear the coveted blue.
The feeling of wearing that shirt was incredible but now I want to experience the real thing pulling on that shirt and walking out to represent the country, says Jadhav.
If Jadhav had said the same thing a couple of years ago,quite a few people would have had wry smiles on their faces and shake their head in disbelief. However,with his exploits over the past year,the India blue is well within a touching distance now.
A rare breed of cricketers has a particular love affair with a tournament.
Sachin Tendulkar would pile on runs during World Cups,VVS Laxman used to feast on the Australians during the Border-Gavaskar trophy till a couple of years ago. Punes very own Kedar Jadhav has something on similar lines with the Deodhar Trophy,Indias domestic zonal One-Day competition.
Just have a look at the numbers to the right of Jadhavs name whenever he plays the Deodhar Trophy. In four innings in the tournament,the diminutive right-hander has aggregated 294 runs at a staggering average of 147. He has already blazed his way to a century in the tournament last year and has three half-centuries to his name with two of those coming in the 2012 and 2013 finals. West Zone,Jadhavs team,has been champions of the Deodhar Trophy for two consecutive years now and a lions share of that success is due to Jadhavs pyrotechnics. Jadhavs overall List A or One-Day average is a very healthy 52.34 and the brawny right-hander has maintained that over five rather consistent seasons.
I have enjoyed the challenge of facing the best bowlers in India. I havent figured out how,but I just end up raising my game on big occasions. Also,the fact that I did well in the tournament last year was spurring me on, he says.
Incidentally,Jadhavs First Class season was also heavy on runs as the right-hander piled up 638 runs in 14 innings at 45.57 with two centuries.
The crowning moment appeared during the first match itself when he struck a devastating 327 off just 312 balls against Uttar Pradesh in Pune.
Also,Jadhav has scored runs when it really mattered. In the final of the 2012 NKP Salve Challenger,he made a racy,unbeaten 60. Picked to play for India A against England in January,he scored an unbeaten 52.
Jadhav is a different player when he plays the limited overs format and he makes no bones about it. I love facing the white ball. It doesnt swing too much and my naturally aggressive game helps me to score quickly, he says.
With these performances,Jadhav has ensured that his name is firmly on the national selectors radar. He believes that the India cap is well within his reach. After such a strong consistent season with lots of runs,I believe I have a good chance of making it into the national team. I have scored runs in all formats of the game and in various situations and I am hoping for the best, he says.
However,if Jadhav has to break into the national team and expect to hold down his spot,he needs to urgently address his problem against the swinging ball. I am the first person to agree that I am not comfortable playing on seaming tracks. However,I have been trying to address this problem by trying to play as much quality swing bowling in the nets. But there arent too many good swing bowlers who will bowl to me and thats posing a problem, he says.
Before this season,consistency and Jadhav didnt really get along. He was famously erratic,racing to 60 and 70-odd runs in a First Class game before getting out trying to play a shot too many. I have always been an aggressive batsman and stroke-making is my forte. But the way I was getting out after getting starts was something that wasnt helping me, he says.
After his breakthrough season with the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL in 2010,Jadhav endured his worst First Class season,scoring just 71 runs in five innings.
Jadhav says his marriage last year and a good hard look at his numbers was the trigger for his transformation. I realised last year that I had to play the game with maturity. I couldnt let my mind waver after getting set. Marriage has brought stability into my life and I am working on bringing the same stability and consistency in my batting, he says.
Also an emphasis on improving his footwork and rigorously practising a few strokes has helped. Earlier I was scared of playing the cover-drive or lofting the ball straight. Over the course of the year,I have spent many hours practising my footwork,shadow-practising my cover-drive and in the Deodhar final last week,I think I was most comfortable playing a cover-drive, he says.
Jadhav is the only player from the current Maharashtra Ranji Trophy team to have earned an IPL contract and also among a very select crop to have regularly represented India A and zonal teams.
However,for all his successes,Jadhav says batting on a turf wicket during practice sessions is a luxury. I practise at Deccan Gymkhana and I hardly get to play on turf wickets. I end up batting in the outfield where the ball turns like a top. Even after scoring all these runs,I still cannot get access to good facilities, he laments.