“He is the best left-arm spinner in India on a spin-friendly track,” Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak once remarked, when asked about Ravindra Jadeja. Kotak was not exaggerating. On rough, abrasive tracks at home, the 27-year-old has been not only handful, but deadly, though bowling with a low trajectory and a quick pivot, he does look like the equivalent of a left-arm spinner bowling darts.
The surface for the Duleep Trophy final wasn’t perhaps as vicious as those on which he nabbed 37 wickets in just three Ranji Trophy Games last season, but still it conspired enough for him to take a match-haul of 10 wickets, which fashioned a 355-run win for India Blue. He also bowled 18 and 16 overs, respectively in both the innings, taking breaks only during the scheduled intervals. Jadeja was perhaps sounding out a warning for the visiting New Zealanders.
Ahead of the three Test match series against New Zealand, Kane Williamson and his team would definitely be mindful of the kind of threat Jadeja poses. The Kiwi skipper candidly confided: “India is a tough place to play, particularly, in more recent years where the pitches have been very tricky…I guess (when) you throw in world-class spinners, the challenges are very tough.”
Their South African counterparts, who toured here last year, would swear by his prowess. On dusty brown carpets, tailor-made to weave his craft, he finished with 23 wickets from four games.
This has been the case since his Test debut against England in Nagpur four seasons ago. Not surprisingly, both his Test captains – MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli – have unmitigated trust in him. There are some inherent factors that make Jadeja such a deadly entity in favourable conditions at home. He is well equipped to bowl with the hard new ball, something most spinners are usually wary of. On hard, green pitches abroad, Dhoni and even Kohli have used him as a stock bowler — someone who would bottle an end up.
Despite all the criticism he had faced for below-par performances on unresponsive tracks abroad – he had just 18 wickets to show from seven Tests in New Zealand, South Africa and England – he always managed to respond by claiming bounties on home conditions. He would turn venomously, extracting bounce appreciably and making the ball to dip. Another aspect that endears him to the bowlers is the energy he brings in- which made him the captain’s go-to man. Also, he can bowl marathon spells from one end unchanged, without any dip in energy and accuracy. Last season, he bowled 27 overs non-stop in a Ranji game. He simply refuses to tire.
Moreover, the talks about the Saurashtra bowler being one-dimensional cut little ice.There’s a proper method. On a spinning track, he could get ample dip, and would also get it to skid off the surface. He used the crease intelligently – not afraid at times to bowl from wide off crease. Another skill is his ability to bowl the straighter one – a delivery that would hold its line even on rank turners.
Jadeja exhibited all these skills in the final. On a track that was receptive to spinners, he ripped through India Red’s batting, picking five wickets in both the innings, and finishing with a match haul of 10/171.
Playing for the first time with the shiny pink Kookaburra ball did nothing to diminish his returns. If anything, he only looked as potent as he would with the traditional red SG ball. In the first innings, he dismissed a well-set Gurkeerat Mann with the ball of the match.
It was the perfect left-arm spinner’s dismissal. Bowled from wide of the crease, the delivery gripped on the surface and turned away so sharply that it squared up the Punjab middle-order batsman.
Mann was dismissed for 57, when he looked like he was in for a major haul. In the second innings, he plotted Amit Mishra’s exit with yet another well-crafted delivery – that had ample flight, turn and bounce. In the end, Mishra could only edge it to the first slip. Under helpful conditions on Day 5, Jadeja was at the top of his game, putting India Red’s batsmen under immense strife.
The left-arm spinner’s performance in the Duleep Trophy final illustrated how deadly he could be in the upcoming home season, where India are scheduled to play 13 Tests over the next six months.
Gambhir’s thumbs down
Even as India Blue’s captain Gautam Gambhir expressed satisfaction over his team’s resounding 355-run Duleep Trophy win over India Red, he insisted he was categorically against any experimentation being carried out in the game’s longest format.
“I am a traditionalist who loves to play the game in the old way. It is my personal opinion but I think all these changes and experimentation should be carried out in T20 cricket only. The five-day matches and Tests should be played with the red ball. At least that’s the way I feel about it,” Gambhir told reporters after the Duleep Trophy final.
Despite having a pretty profitable tournament, scoring 356 runs in five innings, Gambhir reckoned there are issues with pink ball under lights.
“I agree with what Pujara had said about the pink ball. Under lights it is a different game and it is always difficult to pick up the wrist spinners and their googlies,” he noted.