Operating with the other Indian spinners at the nets in Ferozeshah Kotla,Ravindra Jadeja seemed to having a roaring time. First he confused Virat Kohli with one that turned square,then he got Sachin Tendulkar to guess the one that skidded through the surface. Finally,he welcomed his captain,MS Dhoni,with a sharp arm-ball.
Jadeja,perhaps expecting a word of appreciation or two from the skipper,approached the batsman. Dhonis reply,though,was an amusing one. Pehli ball toh flight kar le, said Dhoni,delivering his backhanded compliment. But a compliment,nevertheless.
Both Dhoni and Jadeja are aware of the fact that the latters lack of flight has made him a permanent thorn in the oppositions flesh the secret weapon that claimed 17 wickets against Australia so far. While this has been his first full Test series,Jadeja was as lethal on his debut as well,claiming three wickets in his only appearance against England.
Perhaps realising early that the Nagpur wicket wasnt a big turner,debutant Jadejas keen sense of adaptation was on show in his very first outing,as he castled Jonathan Trott with a delivery that straightened after pitching,clipping the top of off. Next to fall in his trap was Kevin Pietersen,who looked to drive Jadeja through mid-wicket. But wily Jadeja had cut off the pace from his delivery,ensuring KP spooned a simple one in the same direction.
All-rounder Jadeja,despite not coming good with the bat yet,has added plenty of variety to Indias bowling line-up. Variety that perhaps cost India the England series where during the first three Tests he was yet to become a long-format prospect for the side.
Without Jadeja,India sure were a bowler short for the first three Tests versus England. Yes,India won the first one in Ahmedabad,but in Mumbai and Kolkata,their performances on the field showed just how much they missed a spinner who could keep it corridor-tight for long spells. Something that Englands spin twins pulled off with great precision.
When they were here,Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann bowled a constant line while varying their lengths and pace to trouble the Indian batsmen. On the other hand,Indias Ravichandran Ashwin,Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh tended to rely on the presence of the rough. This reliance soon showed in their respective wicket columns.
Jadeja,though the inexperienced one,seems to have learned quickly. Like Panesar,he prefers to pitch it in line with the stumps and trouble the batsman with skid or bounce.
With just that line,he has dismissed Michael Clarke on five separate occasions in three Tests. But while other left-arm spinners such as Panesar are deep believers in using the crease,Jadejas side-arm action allows him to bowl both the orthodox ball and the armer from the same area. He is neither too close to the stumps nor too wide,something that leaves the batter guessing until the last moment.
A lot has changed since the England series. For one,Ashwin has come back a lot stronger,focussing solely on his line and pace during the first couple of Tests. And as an able ally from the other end,he had Jadeja who knew all the tricks of bowling on the Chennai and Uppal wickets. He hit the line,bowled a lot flatter and his pace was perfect to get the ball to grip and spit.
The strategy of playing Jadeja has been a huge bonus for India on these wickets. But considering that Indias next few assignments are all abroad,will he still be effective? Unlikely,but Jadeja is fast building a reputation as a quick learner.
There,on fast and spicy pitches,he will surely have to bowl slower through the air and play the role that fast bowler Ishant Sharma is happy to play here the containing one. But South Africa is a long way away. Over the next five days,Jadeja will be back to doing what he likes best bowling flat and fast from Ball One.