“Yeh koi khaas baat nahi!” Ravindra Jadeja says in the press conference, making light of his sword-dance on completing a half-century, before delving on the essence of it, just in case you are not aware of his forebears: “It is the trademark style of Rajputs. That’s what I have been following, nothing special. You must have seen this somewhere.” He wraps off the description with a quip, “Talwar to hum stadium ke andar nahin la sakte hain.”
Now, if you have attended Jadeja’s press conferences or interacted with him, you’d know what it means. He’s fiercely proud of his heritage – a more conspicuous detail is that he has Rajput No. 8 inscribed on his shoes. He has a stable of thoroughbreds, like his ancestors, loves lions and twirls his moustache. For him, it’s not about being caste-conscious or flaunting it, but projecting himself as a fighter. It’s how he wants the world to see him – as a fighter. Maybe this explains the arrogant streak that had permeated the early phase of his career, but also explain how he successfully fought back from the setbacks in life and career.
For, except the royal lineage, Jadeja’s wasn’t a privileged upbringing. His mother died when he was just 17. His father, a security guard, didn’t have a fixed income. He had two elder sisters too. He didn’t have the resources or background to think of cricket as a profession.
And then for several years after he broke into the national side, he was trolled and ridiculed like few other cricketers of his time. Maybe it was his insouciance, or abrasiveness, or impishness that prompted the public to portray him as a caricature.
There might have been a time when he himself would admit he was reckless, but with age and maturity, and of course fighting spirit, he has not only re-emerged but reinforced himself as a perpetually evolving undroppable member of the team. The knock on Monday, which affirmed that the two triple hundreds in first-class cricket weren’t an accident, gave further credence to this. If you’d doubted his Test-match temperament, this was the perfect repartee.
The word combative, perhaps, best describes his knock. First, he was combating his own impulses. He shelved all his self-implosive impulses for most part, exercising the sort of caution that has rarely, if ever, existed in his batting.
Jadeja has, in the past, given glimpses of his batting faculty. He has in his roll of honour two half-centuries in Tests and spate of critical 30s and 40s. At Lord’s, two years ago, he reeled off 68 off only 57 balls. In Kanpur, earlier this season, he freewheeled to an unbeaten 50 off 58 deliveries.
It was the mono-toned pattern to all those efforts-he would uninhibitedly bring out his strokes, especially his percentage shots, the swish through point and the slap-pull through mid-wicket – that contributed most of the runs. The argument that he bats too low down the order, and hence irrespective of the situation, he has to go after the bowling, doesn’t cut much logic here.
For, irrespective of whether he has been batting with the tail or a specialist batsman, he had showed only one dimension of his game, that is to go after the bowling. Apart from a 98-balled 31 in Nottingham and a 92-ball 38 against South Africa at this very ground, he hasn’t entertained survival measures, even as a despondency tactic. Maybe, he never fancied it much, it’s not akin to a warrior, or he had a stubborn belief in his methods. Also was a lurking feeling that he was, these days, less focused on his batting.
Those stereotypes were busted, not with one swish of the blade, which he considers a sword, but over a gradual period of restraint. Just one piece of stat illuminates the point-this was the first time he had faced more than 100 balls in a Test innings. If you skim through his knocks, you’ll find that just thrice in 35 innings before this had he got his runs at a rate less than 60. But here his 90 was spread over 170 balls. In a Ranji match alone, he has whipped up a double hundred in quicker time.
Jadeja was chaffed when asked about the renewed approach. “I have made runs in domestic cricket, in First-Class cricket. If you take away my Test performances, I average 53 in first-class cricket. It is not my first innings where I have made 90. Agreed, this was my longest Test innings but I know that I can play. It is just that I was trying to give myself time, was not in a rush,” he says.
The only time he looked in rush was when he thumped three boundaries in a Chris Woakes over on Monday and when he made a calculated carnage against the new ball late on Sunday. The sudden onslaught, he says, was sparked by the boring lines of England’s bowlers. “They were bowling very boring lines, outside off. There was no shortage of time. But I thought I could disturb the bowler, get outside off and hit through the leg-side where there were just two fielders,” he says.
Then he denied himself a maiden Test century, through perhaps a sudden seizure of those very demons he had desisted and detained. Jadeja, warrior-like, put on a brave face.
“The shot that I got out to, that is my shot. I always hit that ball for six, I have confidence in myself. But the ball came off the wicket slowly, so the impact wasn’t powerful. I am not disappointed that I got out to that shot,” he defends.
But just imagine if he were to complete his maiden hundred. Of course, his rubbery wrists would have been over-worked after an extended sword-swishing routine. Then at the end of evening, he would reflect on his coming-of-the-age innings in Tests.