The thinking behind leaving Ravindra Jadeja out of the Perth Test is getting murkier. Soon after the defeat, skipper Virat Kohli specified that the four-pronged pace attack was picked purely on conditions rather than fitness and form, that he would have overlooked lead spinner Ravichandran Ashwin even if he had been fully fit, implying that Jadeja didn’t stand a chance of playing.
But, three days before the third Test, coach Ravi Shastri contradicted the captain and gave a fresh spin to the debate, saying Jadeja was only “70-80 percent fit” at Perth and carrying a shoulder stiffness from domestic cricket. Thus, in trying to defend the selection faux pas, he has prompted questions on a range of issues, ranging from player injury-management system to the contradiction in the voices of the coach and captain, workload management, and the tendency to hush-up injuries.
The team has been copping flak, especially from former cricketers back home, for playing a four-pronged pace attack in the Perth Test, where a spinner was dearly missed. Since Ashwin was ruled out due to injury, the obvious alternative was Jadeja. But Shastri, with his characteristic gung-ho style, came up with a reason: “Problem with Jaddu was that he had taken an injection four days into coming to Australia because of some stiffness in his shoulder, and it took a while for that injection to settle down. So when you look at Perth, we felt he was about 70-80 percent fit, and we didn’t want to risk that.”
What’s even more shocking is that despite the stiffness, which according to Shastri Jadeja picked before a domestic game — he played only one between the West Indies series and the Australia tour, wherein he scored an unbeaten 178 and bowled 64 overs — he boarded the flight to Australia. It wasn’t as if the management was unaware of his injury, but they thought, at least according to Shastri, that he will recover in time for the series. “When he came here, he felt some stiffness, and he felt that in India as well, but he played domestic cricket after that. He was injected again and it takes time to settle. It has taken longer than we expected, and we wanted to be careful. We didn’t want a scenario wherein the player pulls out after five-ten overs in a Test,” Shastri explained.
So was it a case of them taking the injury lightly, or were they blinded to the risk of carrying an injured player, with a cloud of uncertainty always hovering them? Both are risk-fraught.
A fully fit player brings more assurance than a semi-fit one, and there already was a back-up in the form of Kuldeep Yadav. So does it also infer the management’s lack of faith in Kuldeep’s abilities? Also, it could only aggravate Jadeja’s injury.
More bizarrely, Jadeja, despite the injury, was actively involved in the scheme of things. Since landing in Australia, he played the lone practice game against Cricket Australia XI, bowled 11 overs but didn’t bat, bowled tirelessly in the practice sessions, came on as substitute fielder for a cumulative of 45 overs in both Tests combined, was named in the 13-member squad for the Perth Test, and was fielding in the deep, belting out accurate throws. It’s strange for a bowler nursing an injury to be dispatched to the deep, especially where the boundaries are longer than they are in the subcontinent. It stinks of mismanagement.
A thought now on workload management. Though Jadeja played only one of India’s overseas Tests this year, his build-up to the Australia series was busy, which began with the Asia Cup and ended with the singular Ranji match against Railways. He played both Tests and four of the five ODIs against the West Indies.
So if he had picked the shoulder stiffness before the Ranji fixture, as Shastri revealed, he could have been advised to take rest by the management or doctors, who had been supposedly monitoring the players. After all, unlike players returning from injuries he was under no obligation to prove his fitness by playing first-class matches before standing a chance to being picked for the Indian team, a policy devised by former coach Anil Kumble.
Kumble’s measure was well meant, but it is also prone to manipulation. It has come to a stage wherein a player rushes from his injury, plays a lone first-class game and is back in the team.
Finally, the contradictions in Shastri’s and Kohli’s statements. Kohli had clearly mentioned that it was the conditions that prompted the four-pacers-no-spinner strategy, while Shastri kept harking on Jadeja’s fitness, saying that “it was their only dilemma,” before the Perth Test. It’s not the first time that they have contradicted each other’s opinions. For instance, after losing in South Africa, Shastri rued the lack of practice games while Kohli felt they’d come fully prepared. It’s a different story that India continued to play warm-up games as if they were glorified net sessions. Agreed that Shastri and Kohli might have different perceptions, but one would expect uniformity in matters pertaining to the team.
What it leaves is an over-large Indian entourage reduced to a shrunken bunch. Three of them have injury concerns (Ashwin, Jadeja and Rohit Sharma), one has returned from an injury and played one first-class game (Hardik Pandya), one hasn’t played any first-class match since January (Bhuvneshwar Kumar), and one who’s landed just five days before the Boxing Day Test (Mayank Agarwal). Add to the worries an under-firing opening pair and India seemed to have suddenly unravelled after the Adelaide high. But what does Shastri say? “We have to do what’s best for the team, as simple as that.”