When Virat Kohli revealed India’s XI for the final ODI against Australia in Nagpur on Sunday, there were many furrowed brows at the conservative approach behind the selection. When India had already pocketed the series, why was KL Rahul left out while Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav played for a fifth time in five matches? All the more because Kohli is ostensibly trying to settle on a regular No.4 option.
Maybe Pandey, who played at the position in the first two matches of the series, could have made way for Rahul in the final match, but not Jadhav. The latter is more than just another No.4 option in the squad.
He is also fast emerging as India’s spin bowling all-rounder: increasingly an undroppable name on the team sheet. In the 17 innings since he first ambled in to bowl against New Zealand in Dharamsala last year, Jadhav has taken 16 wickets.
While it isn’t a staggering tally, he has often chipped in with breakthroughs when the opposition seemed to have India on the ropes. More than the number of wickets, it’s his average and strike rate that underline Jadhav’s value for Team India: his figures of a wicket per 24.81 runs and 28.8 balls are inferior to only Jasprit Bumrah (22.13 average and 27.8 strike rate) in the current set-up.
His economy, too, is a respectable 5.16, though his average and strike rate will go up as he bowls more overs per match.
So what makes Jadhav such a dangerous customer? A plausible explanation is his unique trajectory. As a medium-built fellow, Jadhav often crouches a bit and his round-arm, Lasith Malinga style delivery further exaggerates his low release: yesterday, when he bowled over the wicket, the ball seemed to be popping out not as much from his hand as from umpire Marais Irasmus’ belly.
Jadhav’s biggest strength, however, is that he appears to play with the batsman’s ego. Often he is introduced when the opposition is running away with the game — as Australia were in Bangalore, having made 231 for no loss. In that case, the batsmen see him as an opportunity to step on the gas even more. Sometimes, he comes on to bowl when India have squeezed the run flow. In that case, there is an opening for the batsmen to take a few chances against the part-timer.
In either case, Jadhav’s loopy, super slow offerings do not as much invite them as seduce them into going after him. But, for a right-hander, his low point of release means they can’t quite get under the ball. So they try to hit across the line. The stump-to-stump line, lack of pace and bounce means they go extra hard at it and often fail to connect properly, as Steve Smith did on Sunday only to find himself rapped on the pads plumb in front. For left-handers, from around the wicket, Jadhav bowls to a packed off-side field. Here he mixes his pace and angles well, often oscillating between a relatively high-arm release (11:05) to a flat, almost 11:15 one, flirting with underarm bowling. He also varies his pace, and therefore cutting him is always fraught with danger.
When the batsmen find themselves unable to score of a part-timer, it infuriates them into going after him with renewed zeal. Only to find that, like quicksand, the more they struggle, the faster they sink.
Shakib Al Hasan admitted as much after Bangladesh’s loss to India in the Champions Trophy semifinal. They were cruising at 142 for two when Jadhav came on. By the time he was done, the Tigers had collapsed to 179 for five. “India bowled a few dot balls. And because it was a part-time bowler, the batsmen tried to score more runs and in doing that, they lost wickets. Losing two wickets to an occasional bowler obviously didn’t help. Bowlers bowl good balls and sometimes you can’t score runs. It doesn’t mean you panic and play big shots and get out.”
Panic, then, is what Jadhav thrives on. The fear of missing out. It does the batsmen in.
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