Scene 1, 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final, Birmingham: Mushfiqur Rahim was doing a fine rebuild job for Bangladesh after losing Tamim Iqbal but this was a passage of play where runs didn’t come easily. There were too many dot balls from either end, so he decided to attack the part-timer. There came a full toss, sighted early, but Rahim, in his rush of blood, smashed it straight to Virat Kohli at mid-wicket. The score 179/5 in the 35th over and the Tigers never recovered from that dismissal.

Scene 2, 1st ODI, Dambulla: Upul Tharanga smacked an absolute joke of a full-toss delivered straight up in the air and was easily caught at long on. It was not even a low full delivery that batsmen have difficulty putting away because they need to gain height upon hitting it. This was high enough, almost on the verge of being a waist-high no ball. It was the 33rd over and Sri Lanka were starting to stutter at 166/4 and never really recovered after that horrendous shot from the skipper.

There is a similarity between these two dismissals, and no, it is not about the slow full tosses hurled at the batsmen. In both instances, the part-timer was bowling at a delicate juncture in the opposition’s innings. One-Day International cricket has now been modulated to gain pace after the 30th over – in a bid to maximise the ten overs before an extra fielder is allowed outside the 30-yard circle in the final powerplay.

It is a passage of play wherein India tend to bring on death overs specialist Jasprit Bumrah, but only after their slower bowlers have laid the ground work with a plethora of dot balls. In both instances then, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had been squeezed for runs, coercing them to hit out and dominate proceedings. The part-timer provided that opportunity, and they went for it, only for this move to come crashing down.

This is, quintessentially, the Kedar Jadhav method of bowling, and indeed, taking getting breakthroughs.

The quintessential gully cricket bowler

Ever played gully cricket? Of course you have, and thus you will understand what Jadhav’s bowling persona is all about. He is the bowler who comes on when your opponents want to slip in those extra overs. He is the bowler given an over or two, otherwise he will feed bad, just fielding and running around (as there is a good chance he won’t get to bat). He is the bowler whom you want to hit out of the park six times out of six. And he is the bowler you eventually get out to,instead, trying to do just that.

All-round players are a dime a dozen in gully playgrounds. There are so many of us who have batted, bowled, fielded and kept wickets. Of course, international cricket is not the same, but everything about Jadhav is like a throwback to India’s strong gully-cricket connection. Extrapolate this scenario to ODIs or Twenty20 Internationals, and it is typically gully-mode on for the Men in Blue whenever he is brought on to bowl.

With a largely side-on action, Jadhav is not your regular “spinner”. There is not enough body-turn in his delivery stride to impart variations on the ball. In fact, let one rephrase; he is not even your regular “part-time bowler”. It is perhaps the singular reason why he has been successful in picking up regular wickets – the opposition doesn’t take him seriously enough and looks to target him at every opportunity. If this Indian line-up were batting against him, they would look to do the same.

He isn’t in the Suresh Raina or Yuvraj Singh mould, and that has worked in Jadhav’s favour, oddly enough. In fact, the rise of Jadhav the bowler isn’t incidental. It has risen from the specific need for Indian to deploy part-time options in limited-overs’ cricket in the absence of seasoned part-timers like Yuvraj and Raina. It was with this mindset that former skipper MS Dhoni had first handed Jadhav the ball against New Zealand in Dharamsala in autumn of 2016.

The Jadhav-Pandey trade-off

Jadhav has only bowled in 12 out of 26 ODIs that he has played in. Initially, there was reluctance to increase dependability on him. It was down to the simultaneous inclusion of Hardik Pandya which has meant that India have five full-time bowlers available at all times. However, there is a lack of consistency in this five-pronged attack, and many times 50 overs spread over five bowlers hasn’t proven a creditable enough ploy. The recent Champions Trophy is a keen example, where Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin and even Ravindra Jadeja struggled to finish their quota of overs on different occasions in what was essentially a five-match tournament.

As such, faced with the prospect of a longer-duration World Cup in two years, this lack of consistency from India’s attack underlines the value of “Jadhav the bowler”. Ever since, Kohli looked at him as a regular option in England, his stock in the squad has risen, say, in comparison to someone like Manish Pandey. Jadhav’s primary job is to finish games for India batting at No. 6 (and be an able fielder too). It is something that Pandey can be groomed for, now that KL Rahul is batting at No. 4, but he doesn’t bowl. The fact that none of India’s other top-order batsmen are reliable part-time bowlers helps too.

Yet, the short time Jadhav spent playing in English conditions this past June showed glaring weaknesses in his game in those two aspects – batting and fielding. One school of thought here says that it was his first time playing in England, and thus, like any normal cricketer, he found it tough to adjust. Eventually he will have gained from this experience, and could showcase this learning when the Indian team begins the overseas cycle next year.

It’s time to take a call

The other school of thought says that time is already running out for the Indian think-tank to make a decision on Jadhav as they have started building up to the 2019 ODI World Cup. If they continue to rely on his bowling, in a bid to have more than five bowling options, Kohli risks getting into a comfort zone with Jadhav, like Dhoni did with Raina or Yuvraj. It becomes increasingly tougher to drop such players in the larger interests of the team, and can hurt team composition in the longer run as we have seen in the particular cases of Raina/Yuvraj.

On the one hand, there is someone sitting on the bench who is a full-time batsman and an outstandingly fit fielder. On the other, you have someone who can send down a few overs when things go awry for their five-bowler attack, never mind the other traits. It is a fine balance, pertaining to Jadhav, which Kohli must achieve in the months to come.

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