Ravindra Jadeja is set to travel to England where his fortunes dramatically changed for good in 2018. From being out of the team in Tests and ODIs, Jadeja is now one of the key all-format players of this team that wants to win the World Test Championship.
In a chat with The Indian Express, Jadeja throws light on how he became a power-batsman, his sizzling fielding, his formative years in bowling and on that famous celebration after the fifty during the 2019 World Cup semi-final.
For 18 months or so, until the tour of England in 2018, you were almost in the wilderness. Out of ODIs and not getting into the Test playing XI. How did you bounce back so strongly?
Honestly, those one-and-a-half years were filled with sleepless nights. Through that phase, I remember I would be up till 4-5 am. I would be thinking about what to do, how am I going to bounce back?
I couldn’t sleep. I would be lying down but jaaga hi rehta tha (was awake only). I was in the Test squad but not playing as we played a lot overseas. I wasn’t playing ODIs. I wasn’t playing domestic too as I would be travelling with the Indian team though not playing. I wasn’t getting any opportunity to prove myself. I would keep thinking about how I am going to come back.
In the Oval Test in 2018, you struck a superb 86 when the team was 160 for 6 in the first innings chasing 332. Ravi Shastri would later say that the game showed you were an all rounder who could play anywhere in the world.
That Test changed everything for me. Poora (complete) game. My performance, my confidence, everything. When you score in English conditions against the best bowling attack, it greatly impacts your confidence. It makes you feel your technique is good enough to score anywhere in the world. Later, Hardik Pandya got injured and I made my ODI comeback. From then on, my game has been going well, touchwood.
I remember there was no pre-plan when I went into bat in that Test. I took my time and told Hanuma Vihari, on debut, to do the same. We kept on talking to each other. In England, it’s all about spending time initially. You get an idea about how much it would swing and bounce. Luckily, the sun came out. Conditions change every other hour in England and it was bright and sunny. It didn’t swing as alarmingly as it can in England. There were of course unplayable balls now and then.
Your power game exploded in the 2020 IPL. What was your preparation?
I improved my training methods as I realized in T20 I needed power apart from the timing. Timing comes in handy when you are not in a rush for runs, like in Tests. I increased my training before that season, worked a lot on overall strength, upper body, and shoulder. There were one-and-half months of practice before that 2020 season and I didn’t miss even a day even if it was optional.
Two noticeable tweaks were visible: the knee flex at stance (Shane Watson also spoke about it) and the exaggerated arch-back which allowed you to flow through the line of the ball.
Watson’s point about knee bend is about the flow in my shots. He reckons I have a great balance when I go through the shots. My body’s balance is in the center when I play the forcing shots. That increases the chances of connecting with the aerial shots; mein connect karoonga hi karoonga (I will definitely connect). I also started to finish the shots well. In T20, every middle-order batsman is trying to hit a six, it goes as four sometimes. That’s my method as well.
In the past, you had shot selection issues. Even MS Dhoni said during the 2015 World Cup that you must improve on that front and find a way to hit runs against bouncers.
I remember he said that I was trying to hit shots against balls I shouldn’t be attempting. Shot selection was something I also felt I was doing wrong. My judgement at the start wasn’t right. I would be in double mind. ‘Should I go for the shot, or no?’ These days, I like to take my time and I am clearer in my mind. I know I can always cover up the runs later. That change in thinking has helped.
About bouncers, yes when you hit a six against short ones, the confidence increases. I never had a problem against bouncers – as in I don’t remember getting out too many times to it or thinking I can’t play it. It was about the selection of shots and my balance.
Let’s come to your fielding; no one in the world throws as fast as you do or so it seems. What’s the secret?
You must ask my papa (laughs). I have his genes. Some of it is natural. Lots of hard work with shoulder exercises, gym, practice. It’s not all-natural for me. I work a lot on it else, my shoulders won’t have lasted long. It’s been 12-13 years but I have maintained my shoulder. I bowl a lot too. I train well and know how to take care.
My coach Mahendra Singh Chauhan in Jamnagar would make us run and field; only then you can bat. In the first four years, I would only field a lot. He would seem stern, doesn’t show expressions but he is very helpful. He was very good.
With age, people’s reflexes and speed slow down but yours it seems has increased. Your direct hits continue to stun. It can’t be just talent, could you detail the hard work?
I can’t tell people daily what I work on to improve fielding or whatever. I am not the type of individual who feels the need to tell people daily how hard I am working. Rather, I would, as I do on social media, keep showing my horse riding! Because no one knows how to do it. Koi kar hi nahi saktha! [in his farmhouse, Jadeja likes to ride on unsaddled horses at night]. (Laughs).
I agree I am a bit of a natural in fielding but there would be wear and tear in the shoulder for anyone who has played so many years. I work hard to maintain it. I believe that if my shoulder remains good, I can keep on playing cricket for many years to come.
What’s your routine when it comes to training for fielding?
I tell the fielding coach R Sridhar that I won’t take hard hits in training. I would be happier getting injured in a match than in training. I tell him to give relatively slow catches, I will manage in the match. I know how to react in a match situation. Because in the past, I have been drained out during fielding training with knocks on my fingers. Then, in the match, I would be worried ‘oh I hope that I don’t get it on the same spots again’. So, I don’t do high-intensity training in fielding.
What’s the one key thing in being a good fielder?
I know my anticipation is very good in a match situation. I don’t know what others think about before the ball comes, but personally, after playing so many years, I know what the release shot of different batsmen is. And I can tell from how he is playing, where the ball is going to go. I have that extra fraction of a second and I move there quickly. So, at times, you will see me getting into positions and take ‘easy’ catches, but I know if it were someone else, it would have been a blinder as he hasn’t moved across quickly in anticipation.
It does feel good when I am appreciated for my fielding, they might not see my hard work, but they know it. When I drop catches also, people don’t criticize, it’s more like, ‘hota hai, it happens’.
You are now an all-conditions spinner. There is a story from your formative years; your coach Chauhan used to make a kid stand in between you and the batsman, true?
Yes, to make us flight more, to try and spin the ball in the air. One cannot spin the ball, by bowling flat or too fast. So he used to tell us to try to give loop in the air and spin it.
Hope you didn’t hit anyone?
No (laughs). The kid used to catch the ball whenever he felt it was hitting his body.
We can’t not mention the famous 2019 semi-final celebration towards Sanjay Manjrekar after the fifty! (Manjrekar had previously termed him a “bits and pieces” cricketer). Did you plan it? Did you know where the commentary box was?!
Tab toh Bhatta garam tha, na! (The grill was hot, then!) I was searching for the commentary box. Then I thought, it must be somewhere there, only. And those who understand would know who I was targeting the celebration at! (laughs).
Before the England tour you had to quarantine. How tough does it get?
It’s very tough. When we underwent quarantine for the first time, we didn’t realise that it would get tougher. Now, before every series, we have to undergo quarantine. Sometimes, we feel very bored but at the same time, we are getting to play cricket. Now before entering the hotel we download movies. One can’t exercise the whole day, so one has to find some entertainment. Earlier it was 14 days of quarantine and now we have seven days. Now, we know that we have nothing to do before 1 pm. There is no pressure of getting up. During Test matches, since you have to wake up by 6, I sleep early by 10:30 pm. But in quarantine, jab uthe tab subah (whenever you wake up, only then it’s morning!). Sometimes killing time is a challenge, though.
Do you have any friends in the Indian team?
Overall we all are of the same age and have played together since our under-19 days. We all are family men now, so we don’t spend as much time as we used to (with each other). Now we spend more time with family and for the last five years, our families are travelling with us.
How much has marriage changed you?
A lot. A responsibility has come now. When at home I take care of my daughter. When at home, I do all the home-related work.
What is your assessment of England batsmen?
In India, they are a different team. They don’t know how much the ball will turn. They play shots, which are not needed. In England it’s a different ball game, it’s about swing and seam. They are used to playing in their conditions. But at the same time, we have a balanced team. We don’t have to worry and I feel in a Test match, the team which plays each session well will have an upper hand.
You seem to have a great connection with England. Champions Trophy, that Oval Test and later the 2019 World Cup.
Absolutely. I have always performed well in all formats in England. Ahead of the upcoming tour, if I think back on what I did there last, the 2019 World Cup would spring to mind. Particularly, the semi-final knock against New Zealand. Even as I think about it, my confidence increases as I know chalo, I have performed in a big match last time. If you take a Test match, I would think about that Oval Test. Personally, I am calm. I know I don’t have to try anything different. Just continue what I did in the IPL now; same routine, same method, just continue.
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