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The sword was unsheathed again. Long before the jig at Lord’s made it famous, Ravindra Jadeja could often be seen practising the sword dance after batting at practice sessions. Of course, to the uninitiated, it would seem he had suddenly been swarmed by flies and was trying his best to swat them with the bat. Clearly, he would visualise his celebration of run-scoring feats as meticulously he would his strokes. Only those knocks were rare. In fact, none after the maiden fifty at Lord’s 2014 till Kanpur 2016, the first Test of a 13-match home season. Not that he wasn’t batting well; in 2015, he had played as crucial a role with willow in India’s win over South Africa on raging turners as he had with leather. But statisticians have yet to acknowledge crucial 30s, no matter how tough the scoring conditions. Fifties, the minimum threshold to be acknowledged as a batsman, were not coming.
Kanpur then, the first innings: While the wickets kept falling at one end on a tough wicket, Jadeja counterattacked to take India past 300, but he was stranded eight short of personal milestone. In the second innings, India, despite having stretched the lead to well over 400, waited Jadeja to bring up his fifty before declaring. He tucked away a Mitchell Santner delivery off his pads for one run, and then hurried off towards the dressing room. From there, captain Virat Kohli signalled by rotating his wrists that Jadeja has forgotten something: the ritual. Thus came the sword dance in whites after two years. The spell has been broken— or scythed through. Since then, it has become a regular occurrence.
Coming into this Test match, he had done it five times this season. And on Monday, he did it a sixth time, and it couldn’t have come at a more crucial juncture.
— BCCI (@BCCI) 27 March 2017
With the match and the series on the line, on a lively track and against vicious fast bowling and treacherous spin, Jadeja, batting alongside Wriddhiman Saha, mixed caution with aggression, lofted shots with the forward defensive, as he dug India out of hole with a buccaneering half-century and guided them to a 32-run lead. Jadeja joined Saha in the third session on Sunday when India were 221 for six and still 79 run shot of Australia’s total. With the pitch offering bounce and sharp turn, Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe had got into a rhythm and Steve Smith delayed taking the new ball. Jadeja smoked a six off either bowler to force Smith’s hand.
— BCCI (@BCCI) 27 March 2017
In the morning, as Jadeja and Saha resumed at 248/6, Australia thought they had their man when Pat Cummins seamed one in off a length on the very first ball of the day. It was deemed to have taken the edge to the keeper. Jadeja reviewed it and the decision was overturned as the ball had clearly missed the bat. There were a few more nervous moments, but as he drove Cummins straight past the bowler for a four in the next, Jadeja had found his bearings. His tussle with the red-hot Cummins was riveting. Cummins went for his head and hit him on the helmet. It must have hurt, but Jadeja shrugged off and pulled the fast bowler for a four and a six on back to back balls. Cummins dislodged him two overs later, forcing him to drive away from the body only to inside-edge onto the stumps. By then Jadeja had made the highest score of the Indian innings, 63, and taken India to 317 with a 96-run seventh wicket partnership.
“It was a tough situation, as there was seam and bounce on the wicket. Their fast bowlers were bowling 140kmph-plus. It feels good that I have seen these kind of situations in Test cricket; today, I realised what exactly people mean when they talk about the challenges of Test cricket,” he would later say.
Draining life out of opposition
Such efforts this season by Jadeja—and other lower order batsmen—have repeatedly sucked the life out of opposition and wrested the momentum back. A 32-run deficit on most days wouldn’t be much, but on this pitch, in this tightly-fought series, it turned out to be significant.
— BCCI (@BCCI) 27 March 2017
The pacers reduced the visitors to 31/3, before Jadeja the bowler and Ashwin put them on a trial by spin. Australia’s 137 all out in 53.5 overs left India with a 106-run target. The tired duo of Cummins and Josh Hazlewood found them selves going through the motions again as KL Rahul and Murali Vijay brought the equation down to 87 runs needed with 10 wickets in hand.
It was only day three of the Test match, but Jadeja sat in the press conference room in a reflective mood. “It feels good that people are saying I am one of the more responsible players of this team. That I am someone who can perform in any situation across all departments of the game. If someone works hard, it is with an aim to become a valuable player. My biggest achievement is contributing in a winning cause. It’s a good feeling that I am doing well in Test matches,” said Jadeja, smiling a satisfactory smile and basking in the glory of a job well done. His job is indeed done. Barring an unlikely Indian collapse on Tuesday, the all-rounder’s home season is over.
And what a season it was! 71 wickets in 13 matches, second only to spin-partner Ravichandran Ashwin (83), and 556 runs. A piece of information the cricket statisticians dug out on Monday was that before Jadeja only Kapil Dev in 1978-79 and Mitchell Johnson (2008-09) had taken 50 wickets and scored over 500 runs in a season. Another remarkable stat: Jadeja is joint second in the list of Indian players to have scored most fifties this season — only behind Cheteshwar Pujara, and alongside Vijay, Rahul and Kohli. Essentially, the World No.1 Test bowler can walk into this side purely as a batsman.
“I have played a lot of ODIs but this year, I have played Tests and done well. There’s self-satisfaction now that I am suited to both formats. The confidence increases, that I can back myself as a longer-version player,” he added.
Expectations have been raised. And now fans and fellow players want him to go further that fifties. “I told Jaddu there was a hundred for the taking,” Ashwin said after stumps on day three. “He is a very talented batsman, if he puts his head down, he can get that hundred.”
It will be interesting to see how he celebrates that landmark.