As a burst of drizzle forced Virat Kohli to hurry through the outdoor press conference, a Rastafarian, his braided hair tucked underneath a violet turban, waited patiently near the stairway to the dressing room. His request: “I want a signed jersey from Ravindra Jadeja.”
Not for cricketing reasons, he confirmed, but to hang it in front of his stable. “I heard he loves horses. Me too. I have a few, old racehorses. Maybe, he can visit my stable and ride them. I charge $25 for an hour. For him, it’s free.”
It was a strange request, but perhaps it was this very strangeness of the request that prompted Jadeja to alight the stairs and meet the Rasta-fan.
They chatted for a few fleeting seconds. What did they chat about? “Of course, horses, what else? I don’t like this game, man,” the man would say. “Jadeja has promised me that he would visit my stable, to see my old fellas. I have given him my number.”
Had the Rastaman cared to pay close attention to the Test series, he would have seen that Jadeja performed like a thoroughbred. He reinforced his utility again, prompting Kohli to say: “I think with the bat, with the ball, and on the field, there’s no one better than him in the world. He’s just in a great zone now. He’s willing to contribute to the team all the time. And you can see that he wants the ball. He wants to do the job for the team.”
The second session on the fourth day underlined Jadeja’s worth. The surface had slowed down, the pacers were tiring, the West Indians were trenching in, and for the first time in the series, the match seemed to drift.
But nothing daunted Jadeja, he kept pinging the ball as if on a handkerchief. There wasn’t much assistance for him apart from an odd crack from where the ball spat. But he kept probing, preying and pushing the batsmen, mixing his pace, angle, flight and release points. On fourth and fifth-day tracks of the subcontinent, he’s a remorseless hangman. Here, he’s like a benevolent executioner — slow-poisoning the victim — but an executioner nonetheless.
The rewards arrived late, and not without some drama. Jadeja’s front heel on landing — actually, the heel never lands — always seem to veer beyond the crease, before it claws back at the point of release. Replays showed he had overstepped, and Shamarh Brooks, who had spooned the ball to the slip fielder, sighed in relief.
The drama wasn’t over yet, and the protagonists too were the same. A little later, he had Brooks caught at first slip by Rahane, but the umpires decided to check for a no-ball again. After eternal deliberation, they deemed that Jadeja had a fraction of his heel behind the line. This time, Jadeja exhaled.
Jadeja’s utility to the team goes beyond his bowling and ever-evolving lower-order batting. As Kohli had remarked in Australia: “He lifts the energy levels on the field. He rubs on the energy to his teammates, and he’s the man you need on the field when the chips are down.”
Such effusive praise from the captain suggests Jadeja has clearly established himself as India’s spin-bowling all-rounder abroad. It’s not that R Ashwin is slack, but Jadeja, as a package, pips him. He gives his captain one thing that he covets: control.
“It’s the control we can bank on with Jadeja. He’s probably been our most consistent and accurate bowler away from India. That’s the reason he’s constantly playing in the eleven because he gives you control even when the wicket is not supporting his bowling,” Kohli said.
He wears the batsman down with his discipline and drains him with accuracy. Agreed Kohli: “As a batsman, you don’t want to face bowlers pitching in the areas where you can get out constantly even when the ball is not turning so much. He’s always in the game. I think that’s his USP.”
Not that Ashwin can’t perform all these roles, but just that Jadeja does it more clinically. He’s a bowler without caveats, and contrary to some schools of thought, Jadeja is not a defensive spinner.
Jadeja’s value to the team isn’t easily quantifiable. Like his contributions in this series — a haul of six wickets and 75 runs — hardly boggle the mind. But those 58 runs in Antigua were precious given that India were 189/6 at one point. The first innings of a Test match can be tone-setting. But Jadeja batted masterfully. He was not entirely fluent, but gritted out to guarantee that India piled on a competitive score on the board.
His batting often goes unnoticed until he starts brandishing the bat like a sword to celebrate milestones. But look at the numbers: since January 2017, he has scored 712 runs at 44.50 in 18 games. The average is 49.85 from seven games away from home. When a number seven scores these many runs, it’s clear that most of them have come in adversity.
Just to draw a comparison, in the same duration, Ashwin wheedled out 545 runs at an average of 18.75 in 21 games. So, despite Ashwin bragging a better bowling average than Jadeja overseas (28.39 to 30.75), it’s the overall utility of Jadeja that Kohli is banking on, and that has seen him edge out Ashwin in the two-horse race for the away-spinner’s spot.
While the three Indian pacers won all the plaudits during the Test series, Jadeja was the fourth — and the most unassuming — horseman of Windies’s apocalypse.
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