You will remember his celebration when he taunted Sanjay Manjrekar at the commentary studio with ‘Ab kya bologe?’ shrug after he got to his 50 but consider this: sometime on the eve of the game, or during it, he would have checked where do the commentators sat.
Filed in the memory, for future use. But only the man who rides unsaddled horses in moonlit nights at his farm could have even contemplated that he would get a chance to use it. When he walked to bat, situation was dire. Dirge played in the stands. Faces emptied out of all colour and positive emotions stared at him. MS Dhoni was gulping water in the middle. Sipping on hope and a prayer. Jadeja went past him and awaited. Dhoni drank some, spat out some, and walked towards him. Who knows what was said? Jadeja, though, seemed possessed. Chest-out, brisk walk, and steely glint in his eyes.
In six balls, we knew he meant business. In six balls, he made everyone realise that the game wasn’t dead. It was the 33rd over of the chase and Jimmy Neesham, who has battled personal demons and overcome thoughts of quitting the game, was bowling.
Jadeja dashed down the track – a manic, imperious possessed run and he gave it a thunderous wallop. The crowd, who didn’t know where the next Indian run was going to come, were stunned. Dhoni’s back was turned and one couldn’t catch his face for it would have been absolutely brilliant to see if the icy-cool man of our times too was moved. Perhaps not.
Jadeja certainly didn’t seem surprised by what he had achieved. That shot said he was in the mood. It said he wasn’t going down wondering. It said it wasn’t going to be a push-and-prod knock that he can occasionally come up with in ODIs. It screamed game on. It stirred Dhoni into hope and purpose. It was the best shot of his life. Never mind his hundreds, triple hundreds in first-class — here was he standing up in the middle of the pitch, bat high in the air, the ball out of sight. With Dhoni watching from the other end. With the game on line.
Would he now keep trying such high-risk options? He stubbed out that thought with the most assured batting he has ever come up with in pressure. He lofted, punched, drove, cut, swept, flicked, and even pulled. He doesn’t do that often. Matt Henry must have looked at Trent Boult in the 38th over when Jadeja pulled him to midwicket boundary — does he have that shot, Boult? Did our performance analyst show us that video? Henry changed lengths immediately. Full, fuller, on a length – and Jadeja tapped them for singles.
Get the spinner on, Williamson thought and Mitch Santner is as good a ODI spinner as they come. He turns it, he can tilt them in, and he can flatten the trajectory and he can quicken the pace. But Jadeja is one Indian batsman who sashays down the track to spinners. Not many do as successfully as him. They prefer the comfort of the crease and look a bit unsure when they leave it. Not him. Middle of the 39th over, he put Santner into long-on stands.
Okay, let’s bring our fastest bowler and Williamson brought on Lockie Ferguson. He must have thought, it’s one thing to pull Henry but can he do it to me? He attempted it first ball at the body, and Jadeja swivelled into a pull. No self-doubt but he wasn’t quick enough as the ball and it flew off the gloves well past the diving ‘keeper to the boundary. But Ferguson had seen enough, he didn’t try the short ball again.
Santner was crash-landed over midwicket one more time and Neesham decided it was time to check whether Jadeja was getting carried away by emotions and pre-determining his hits.
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And so he went for the slower ones. Sensible move but Jadeja was not riding blindly on his horses — he was in control. The best he has ever been with the bat in his hand.
He waited for the slower ones and punched and hit them. Occasionally, he would mistime and Dhoni would saunter across in his ‘cool’ way — not worried, just checking, everything all right, partner? Kind of a walk. Jadeja would smile, his fingers would roll out a slower one — he had it covered, don’t worry and Dhoni would walk back. Then suddenly, that fifty moment was upon us. And that celebration. Manjrekar would soon tweet, “well played Jadeja” with a smiley.
Five minutes later, though, in the 44th over off Neesham, you could sense the tide was turning. Now the rate was climbing and with the new Dhoni, Jadeja knew he had to do all the hitting. A couple of desperate shots came out. One fell short of short-fine-leg, the other teased the long-on. Just as you pursed your lips, he settled you again with a powerful blow over long-on. It was the slower one from Ferguson and he had read it and connected with his thump. An edged four off Boult arrived in the 46th over but in Boult’s next over, came another slower one. Jadeja went for it, the bat slicing the ball, the execution going awry, and it skied up towards Kane Williamson.
“Someone shouted catch it, Oh it’s mine to catch and I waited,” Williamson would say later. The thing is he is perhaps saying the truth – not only he has been a fantastic captain but he is also very calm and cool. And the ball nestled into his palms.
Jadeja walked back distraught. Dhoni had turned his face away, dropped his bat, his gloves, and asked for more water. He drank some, he spat some and by that time Jadeja was back in the hut. So was India, one suspected. His best innings, his ‘to hell with critics’ innings, his ire at the world knock didn’t prove enough.