Updated: February 9, 2021 8:48:45 am
There were several instances over the course of these two intense and energy-sapping days under the unforgiving Chennai sun, when Team India captain Virat Kohli dearly missed the services of Ravindra Jadeja. Early on Day 2, when footmarks had developed outside Ben Stokes’ off-stump, and the irrepressible manner in which England captain Joe Root had repeatedly unfurled the sweep shot, Kohli would have wished the left-arm spinner was part of the playing XI.
Jadeja has constantly evolved his bowling, elevating it into a subtle art form. Over the years, he has displayed that he doesn’t need a rank-turner to run through a side, and can be equally potent on slow, placid tracks. Having prised 157 wickets in 33 home Tests, at a bowling average of 21.06, against his career average of a shade over 24 is further testament of Jadeja’s prowess in India. Here are some of the reasons how the 32-year-old — who is recovering from a thumb injury — would have been integral to Kohli’s plans had he been fit for the first Test against England.
Exploiting the foot-marks: On abrasive tracks in India, footmarks tend to emerge, sometimes, as early as on Day 2, when the soil loses its firmness due to the constant pounding from fast bowlers follow-through. Jadeja is a master at exploiting these footmarks because unlike traditional spinners, he generally operates from wide on the crease and hones in around the sixth-stump line to left-handers. By relentlessly attacking the rough, some deliveries would turn, while others tend go straight on with the arm. This would sow seeds of doubt in the minds of batsmen. There’s little doubt that Jadeja would have severely tested Ben Stokes on Saturday by bowling into the rough.
Clever variations in pace: The Chennai pitch is a placid strip that will only get slower as the match progresses. Therefore, it’s imperative that spinners need to bowl quicker to get maximum purchase from such docile featherbeds. However, it’s not easy to increase the pace, and yet remain fairly consistent in line and length. Jadeja, though, is a rare exception. He can plough away indefatigably for long durations without much fuss and yet remain remarkably accurate. Due to these clever variations in pace, Jadeja would have relished bowling on this track because of his proclivity to trap batsmen lbw by getting them to play inside the line of the delivery.
Flatter trajectory: Blessed with a simple, easy-on-the-eye, fluid and a slightly round-arm bowling action, deciphering Jadeja’s subtle shifts in trajectory is quite an arduous task. It’s a ploy he’s picked up from white-ball cricket and replicated it with a great deal of finesse in Tests. Jadeja with his flatter trajectory uses the natural variation of the pitch to outfox the batsmen. The perennial quandary while facing Jadeja is: should I play him on the front foot or back? This smart piece of deception is conceived by minute changes in lengths without altering his bowling action.
Consequently, batsmen tend to get locked at the crease, robbing them of the opportunity to either use their feet or play the sweep shot. Due to his pin-point accuracy, he doesn’t provide batsmen room to free their arms and play the cut shot. It would have been an absorbing contest to see him operate against Joe Root, who is not only proficient at playing the sweep, but is equally adept at using the crease against spinners.
Economy rate: When Jadeja is not buying you wickets, he does an efficient job in containing the flow of runs. Rarely does he concede over 3 runs per over in Test cricket. In fact, his economy- rate in home Tests is just 2.24 runs an over. Kohli could have done with a bit of Jadeja’s parsimony on a day when both Nadeem and Washington Sundar went at over 4 runs per over, which meant India couldn’t plug one end up despite fairly consistent and probing lines from Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin.
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