The right fist went up, neatly curling his non-bowling arm and flexing the well-toned muscle. In no time, the left-hand joined the act and the sword-play was on display. Ravindra Jadeja was all smiles as he reached his seventh Test fifty. Another crucial knock in the context of the game. The dressing room stood up in unison to applaud what could well turn out to be a match-saving effort. And, why not.
When Jadeja came out to bat, the match was excitingly poised at 221/6. India still needed decent amount of runs, 79 to be precise, to match Australia’s first innings total. With only the tail to follow, onus was on Wriddhiman Saha and more importantly Jadeja to steer the side to the crucial first-innings lead. A positive approach was needed and Jadeja didn’t disappoint. Early in the innings, the left-hander smoked a couple of sixes and signalled his intent.
The team added 27 more runs after the sixth wicket and headed into the day’s break with the scoreboard reading 248/6. Quarter of the battle was won after surviving the last period of play, but stiffer challenges awaited the pair on the third day. They were up against a fresh Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, and the hard new ball. The pair survived and took the side over the safety line, and into the crucial lead. The stand ended when Jadeja, guilty of playing too many shots after crossing the fifty-run mark, dragged a Cummins delivery back on to his stumps.
It has been an outstanding home stretch for Jadeja. With crucial runs, he has given the team insurance lower down the order and it will be foolish to find words for the way he has rolled his arm over with the ball. Bowling was never a problem for ‘Mr Consistent’ Jadeja. It was the batting which frustrated the set of people who rated his skills with the willow very highly.
For a long time, he has been rated below R Ashwin when it comes to batting. It’s not a happy place to be for someone like Jadeja who has scored plenty of runs, tons, triple to be precise, in the domestic circuit. You are as good as the last knock is what they say, and Jadeja’s weren’t good enough. It took him fourteen innings to get to a fifty in the longest format. There are some 20s on the list but they could have easily been crucial fifties. Just like Ashwin said at the end of day’s play on Monday, “Jadeja missed a hundred today.”
It started in the first Test against New Zealand where Jadeja’s unbeaten 42, at a brisk pace, and that crucial stand with R Ashwin pushed India over 300. The show didn’t just stop there as the second innings saw him reaching fifty for the second time in Tests and it again came at a healthy rate. This is what makes a batsman like Jadeja an exciting prospect lower down the order. If he delivers on consistent basis, at the strike-rate which he does, he could well settle the combination debate. Not only does it allow India to field only six specialist batsmen but also gives the skipper to float the left-hander according to match situation. Like it happened in the New Zealand match where he was pushed up the order to score brisk runs.
A match-saving 90 in Mohali, another fifty in the same series against England and a couple more in the ongoing four-Test rubber against Australia have definitely restored his reputation as a batsman. It was not just the batting, but bowling too which has helped India reach where they have towards the fag end of the home season.
Ashwin kept hogging headlines for his bucket-loads of wickets – 82 in 13 Tests this season – but Jadeja quietly went about doing business from the other end. In no time, the left-armer covered ground and now sits at 71 scalps from the 13 games. If he’s 11 short of Ashwin’s tally, it’s his runs which have made more of the difference. While Jadeja has scored 556 runs, Ashwin managed 464 in similar number of matches. At no point is a comparison drawn between the two but just a quick reflection of how important a player Jadeja has been in the 2016/17 season for India. It’s something which MS Dhoni would have enjoyed during his reign but it wasn’t the case as the talented all-rounder failed to deliver the goods with the bat, on a consistent basis.
As Jadeja rests, with content, in his hotel room ahead of Day 4 of the fourth Test, critics’ swords would now be comfortably placed in the sheath. If Jadeja continues to operate in the manner he has been doing this season, there will be only one sword and it will be the left-hander’s bat.