“Turning track pe, jaise hi ek partnership (khatm) hoti hai, to uske baad naya batsman koi bhi jayega, itne footmarks dekh ke udhar unki…” Here, Ravindra Jadeja faltered for the first time on Saturday as the pressroom, almost on a cue, guffawed.
You knew how he would have completed the sentence were this not a post-play media conference but an informal interaction. After realising where he was, he quickly imparted a late spin on it. “…mera matlab udhar hi wo thoda ghabra jayenge.” Well played, Jadeja, well played!
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Jadeja’s media interactions are as absorbing as his bowling spells. He speaks in a halting manner as someone would whose mother tongue is not Hindi. His wit is acerbic, his smile disarming. Most of all, he speaks straightforwardly.
Virat Kohli also does that, too, but while the Test captain represents the polished, urbane Indian — at any rate, in the pressers if not always on the field — it’s Jadeja who epitomises small town. And it’s meant to be a compliment.
If the limitations of a modest middle-class household in Jamnagar shaped his personality; the lack of proper cricketing facilities forged his skill and inner steel. By dint of which he has overcome a handicap that the provincial lad concedes to the city bred one.
Glimpses into formative years
He gave glimpse into his formative years while answering a question as to why he is so deadly on such wickets as Kanpur where the day three track gave inconsistent bounce and turn. It must be pointed out here that it was only fitting that his latest performance came in this small town at a time when Test cricket is seeking to make inroads in provincial India.
So raaz kya hai, asked the journalist. “Koi raaz nahi hai sir,” replied Jadeja, plain-speaking dipped in sarcasm. “Wasie wickets pe khelte hue aaye hain ke jahan groundsmen nahi the. Bachpan se le ke, under-17, under-19 aur ab tak, wo hi conditions mein khetle ayein. To idea ho gaya hai ki (aise wickets pe) kitni speed pe ball dalna hai aur kahan dalna hai. (We didn’t have very well prepared grounds and pitches and those are the kinds I’ve been brought up on, the kinds where there were no groundsmen and we were just practicing. The facilities we had were of that kind, so having played on such pitches, I’ve got an idea of how to bowl, which areas to bowl on, what speed to bowl at. From my childhood to Under-17, Under-19 till now, I’ve played on turners or unprepared pitches. Having played so much on them, I’ve got an idea now (of what to do on them).”
Resultantly, as former Saurashtra player and his one-time teammate Sitanshu Kotak says, he has become India’s best bowler on turners. But just how good “the best” is evident in these numbers.
In the last one year, Jadeja has taken 48 wickets in five domestic first class matches, including eight five-fors. And in four Test matches in India, he has scalped 23 wickets. Seen in conjunction with his crucial contributions with bat on those very tracks, these numbers make him, alongside Ravichandran Ashwin, the biggest match-winner on Indian soil of recent times.
There is one basic difference between Ashwin and Jadeja, though. The former relies heavily on variations. The batsmen get the impression — however delusional — that if they really put there mind to it, they may perhaps pick him. Not, though, with Jadeja.
Once he has a batsman on a leash, he will keep hitting the same spot ball after ball. And despite no apparent change of line of length or pace, they won’t be able to tell which one will turn and which won’t.
Heck, BJ Watling, like many others, gets the impression that Jadeja himself doesn’t know. “I’d like to know if he could pick it, to be fair,” Watling surmised after the day’s play. “Basically if it spins past your edge, no dramas.” Watching the seam closely doesn’t offer any clue of what it to come. “You can see the seam but sometimes it’s the shiny side and sometimes it’s the seam,” the New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman offered after his team were done in by Jadeja’s five-wicket haul.
Jadeja’s five-wicket hauls come in bunches. Last year, when he was attempting to make a Test comeback, he took six five-fors on a canter on the notoriously turning tracks of Rajkot.
After those performances, he had posted on Twitter a picture of six cricket balls with his figures written on them with a marker. The picture was accompanied by a post that said “what next,” with two winking emoticons. What came to pass was a Test recall and a juggernaut that has shown no signs of relenting.