It was the 48th over of the run chase. The target was well within sight for India. It was just over run-a-ball required. Ravindra Jadeja was at the crease. There were three wickets in hand but it was by no means a difficult equation. As it turned out, with 18 needed from 15 balls, he went for a suicidal run and threw his wicket away. India, as the cliche goes, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
That was on November 5, 2009. The match that will always be remembered for Sachin Tendulkar’s 140-ball 175.
It was the 48th over of the run chase. The target was well within sight for India. It was just over run-a-ball required. Ravindra Jadeja was at the crease. There were four wickets in hand and it was by no means a difficult equation. As it turned out, with 17 needed from 16 balls, he went for a heave over long on, instead of rotating the strike. He threw his wicket away. India, as the cliche goes, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
This was on July 2, 2017. The match that will always be remembered for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s 114-ball 54.
Jadeja is not the same player he was in 2009, the year he made his debut for India. That match in Hyderabad against Australia was a seminal moment in his career. He was widely criticised for his role in the defeat. Partly because of the mode of dismissal – a brain fade, as it would have been called today – but mostly because he let the nation’s darling down. It was supposed to be Tendulkar’s night. It was supposed to be a repeat of his Sharjah magic. Instead, it ended up being a throwback to the Chennai Test against Pakistan, when his team failed to finish off what he started.
Coming a few months after his 35-ball 25 in a chase of 153 in a World T20 match against England, Jadeja was made the pantomime villain, a tag he struggled to shrug off for a long time.
In 2017, Jadeja is one of India’s most valued assets. In the eight ensuing years, he has become a bowler who the captain (be it Dhoni or Virat Kohli) trusts the most in tight situations. He became the world’s best Test bowler. He is the country’s best fielder. He even scored two triple-centuries in first class cricket somewhere amid all that – the man had, undoubtedly, turned a corner.
And yet, despite years of experience in the international arena, his ability to make you tear your hair out with his shot-selection and an inability to hold his nerve under pressure, has not changed.
As sure as a Jadeja batting milestone is followed by the Rajput sword-twirl, a moment of sheer madness when he comes out to bat is never far away. Not long back, in the Champions Trophy final, he inexplicably chose to save his wicket over Hardik Pandya’s when there was a misunderstanding while running between the wickets. Now, Pandya, as well has we was hitting the ball, would not have been able to save the match, perhaps. But that shouldn’t take the focus away from Jadeja’s mistake.
These occasions of Jadeja making the wrong decisions are not infrequent. Earlier in 2017, chasing 322 against England at Eden Gardens, India needed 31 from 20 balls. It was Jadeja, who hit two back-to-back boundaries to bring the equation in check. But the very next ball, he pulled a short ball straight to mid-wicket. A few years back, in 2014 against England in Birmingham, with 29 needed from 15 balls, he was once again involved in a run-out.
These are the recent occasions of him bottling under pressure during a chase. The number of times he has thrown his wicket away with a slog to mid-wicket or long-on, irrespective of the format, are too many to list.
As an aside, for a good runner between the wickets Jadeja has been run out 6 times in 37 innings – ODIs and T20s combined – while India have chased. That’s one in every six innings. Again, a pointer towards a lack of game awareness.
Many thought that, with crucial knocks against New Zealand, England and Australia in India’s whites during the stellar home season he had, he was finally beginning to realise his own potential as a batsman.
“It’s not just I don’t *consider* myself as a batsman, I *am* a batsman,” he insisted after a match-winning 90 against England in Mohali.
It has not taken long for him to revert back to type.
Against West Indies in Antigua, all the focus was on Dhoni – during and after the match. It was an innings that attracted wide-spread criticism for the man who has made a career out of finishing off games like the one he failed too on Sunday.
The game started with required rate of less than four, but with 10 overs to go, it had climbed above seven. There was no still reason for panic, as one bad decision from the opposition captain – Jason Holder gave Roston Chase his first over of the evening in the 43rd over, and it ended up going for 16 runs – meant India could canter past the finish line with ones and twos. And then, with 17 needed from 16 balls, Jadeja cleared his front leg, fetched a full ball from the off-stump and hit it straight to the fielder at long on – a shot that defied logic and cricketing common sense.
Unlike that night in 2009, this time Jadeja escaped criticism – for the most part. Partly because it came in a series in West Indies, which is not really high-stakes. But mostly because the world was more fascinated by a bizarre performance by Dhoni. Overshadowed by Dhoni’s vacant stare into the distance after the match, was yet another instance of Jadeja throwing it away.
Maybe it’s time to just stop expecting Jadeja to deliver with the bat. Maybe it’s time to make peace with the fact he is not really meant to be an all-rounder. But for a man who can offer so much more if he applies himself, reads the game better, that would be a crying shame.