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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sidekicks with the main act: Pandya, Jadeja & less-heralded bowlers script India’s consolation win

The spirited win wouldn’t alter the status of the series, but it gave India some much-needed succour after the Sydney setbacks.

Written by Sandip G | Updated: December 3, 2020 2:51:57 pm
jadeja, pandyaIndia's Ravindra Jadeja, left, turns to watch the ball while batting with teammate Hardik Pandya against Australia. (AP)

On the second ball of the 47th over, Ravindra Jadeja shuffled across the stumps, plunged his knees, and gently lifted a low full toss from Sean Abbott over backward square leg for a four. An outrageous stroke that was all wrists and placement.

It amused his batting partner Hardik Pandya, who immediately walked up to Jadeja and had a laugh over the stroke, before rehearsing it himself and gesturing that his wrists are not as malleable as Jadeja’s. It was the moment that captured their joie de vivre when batting together, as they forged an unbeaten 150-run alliance that cemented the foundation of a 13-run victory for India.

The spirited win wouldn’t alter the status of the series, but it gave India some much-needed succour after the Sydney setbacks. It was yet again a validation of the importance of Pandya and Jadeja, who scored 92 off 76 and 66 off 50 respectively to retrieve India from a bothersome 152 for 5.

They might not the most talented players in the set-up, like Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli. but it brooks no argument that both are of utmost importance to the side. Jadeja, if he can bat as cleverly as he did on Wednesday when he could improvise as much as power-hit, adds an extra layer of menace to the Indian batting firm. Likewise, with Pandya, when fully fit to bowl, India would become an indomitable ODI force in the foreseeable future.

An explosive batsman who can bowl efficient medium-pace (sometimes, he does crank up the pace too) and a thrifty spinner who can bat explosively are priceless propositions across formats. They could be sidekicks to the hero, but their cameos could create blockbusters.

What’s more, they are similar to each other in more ways than one. It’s as if they are born to bat together. Both have a streak of flamboyance. Pandya flaunts his earrings, tattoos and studs; Jadeja brags about the thoroughbreds in his stable, stamps his Rajput identity on his celebrations, the sword-dance and all that jazz. There were times in their careers when they seemed drifting down the Enfant Terrible slope, before quickly realising and rectifying their mistakes. Beneath the flash and flippancy is stoic determination and grit to maximise their gifts, a desire to keep evolving. A decade ago, Jadeja was a proper white-ball bit-part player, before he refined himself into a fine Test bowler and a smarter batsman. Pandya, on the other hand, added yards of pace into his medium pace and raised his power-hitting by a few notches.

These are virtues that would endear them to most leaders, their nonchalance and insouciance, the fundamental traits of Pandya and Jadeja. Their match-winning partnership fully embodied these characteristics. At 152 for 5, most lower-order batsmen would be stuck in a dilemma, whether to play their natural game or summon caution. Seldom do they blend both. But Pandya and Jadeja struck the perfect balance. Even when Jadeja struggled to farm strike, he was not under any visible strain. He knew he could make up for the dot balls in the end, which he most devastatingly accomplished. From 16 off 28 balls, he raced to 66 off 50 balls, his last 50 consuming only 22 balls.

The left-hander relied primarily on timing and placement than power. There was the odd leg-side thump or swipe past point, but pace was his closest ally. None more instructive than an upper cut off Abbott. It was a slow bouncer, and Jadeja waited, opened his wrists and lifted the ball over backward point. He had begun that over with a six off another short ball, wherein he swayed from the line of the ball, got under it and launched it over deep backward square-leg. The sophistry only reflected his growing stock as a white-ball batsman.

With Jadeja in a destructive mood, Pandya was content to rotate strike, forsaking the lure of a maiden ODI hundred. After the 46th over, he was on 75 off 66 balls, fresh from hammering Abbott for two boundaries and a six. But he faced just 10 more balls for 17 more runs. It was a mature knock, wherein he sustained a healthy run rate without embracing risk, a less praised facet of his game.

Together, they plundered 76 runs off the last five overs, affording the revamped Indian bowling the cushion of a 300-plus score. Apart from Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah, the rest had not appeared in Sydney. But the trio of Kuldeep Yadav, Shardul Thakur and debutant T Natarajan put in strong performances to suggest the depth in India’s bowling stocks.

Providing considerable relief, Bumrah bowled with hostility and verve. If the new-ball spell was incisive, those with the old-ball were fiendish. He brought India back into the game with the wicket of a rampaging Glenn Maxwell. With the equation reading 35 off 34 balls, Bumrah slipped in a searing yorker that Maxwell, injudiciously backing away, missed altogether.

The wicket scripted the final twist in the match. Natarajan, hit for 19 runs in his previous over, delivered a terrific four-run over before seeing off Ashton Agar, India’s last impediment on the road a victory. Thakur sustained the pressure with an assortment of knuckleballs and slow bouncers, leaving Australia with 15 runs to score off a Bumrah over, an equation that looked improbable. And Bumrah ended their quest on the third ball, thus lifting the gloom that had wrapped the Indian team after the Sydney submission.

As concerted an effort as this had been from the new-look seam trio, Yadav showed signs of putting a forgettable year behind him. He was not as guileful as he could be, but bowled tight lengths and kept a lid on scoring in the middle overs. He bowled flatter and quicker than usual but didn’t provide too many boundary balls, as he had done for the most part of this year. Thus, the dead rubber gave India signs of better times ahead on the tour. None brighter than the continuing evolution of Jadeja and Pandya.

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