Ravindra Jadeja has had a topsy-turvy few months in international cricket. Not too long ago, he was the world’s No 1 ranked bowler and all-rounder in Tests and along with R Ashwin, the wrecker-in-chief of many a batting lineup as Virat Kohli led India’s march to the top of Test rankings. And up until the Champions Trophy, Jadeja (alongside Ashwin) was pretty much the go-to spinner in the limited overs formats as well. At one stage, it felt like Jadeja would make it to the shorter formats purely based on his fielding skills - it won’t be an exaggeration to say he will walk into the playing XIs of most international sides today for his all-round abilities.
But thanks to the emergence of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, the wrist-spin twins who have done their burgeoning reputation no harm in South Africa, Jadeja is left toiling away in the domestic circuit to win his place back in the Indian team.
But both Ashwin and Jadeja seem to understand that they need to expand their skill-set to catch the attention of the selectors and the team think-tank. While Ashwin has been working on his wrist spin arsenal to go with his already impressive finger spin abilities, Jadeja has set his sights on becoming a better all-rounder.
Playing for Saurashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Jadeja has been wicket-less in the four matches he has bowled so far - figures of 0/43, 0/59, 0/39, 0/16 (in 2 overs) don’t really scream ‘pick me!’ if the selectors are looking for signs. What will have caught everyone’s attention is an impressive century, as Jadeja smashed an unbeaten 113 runs off 116 balls against Jharkand on Sunday, guiding his side home in a thrilling run-chase of 330. Batting at No 4, Jadeja’s innings in Secunderabad was studded with seven 4s and four 6s, as he notched up his second List A hundred.
The reason? An IPL assurance from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, of course.
“Mahi bhai told me that I will get batting opportunities in the IPL this year. He said that I have the ability of a proper batsman, and I am not the flash in the pan type of batsman. And I should think like that too,” Jadeja was quoted as saying by the New Indian Express. “It was really encouraging for me. So, I am concentrating more on the batting aspect of my game and trying to get used to playing the anchor role.”
And anchor the chase he did against Jharkand, incidentally, Dhoni’s state side. Jadeja’s abilities as a batsman was never under any doubt but for far too often, he has not lived up to the promise with the willow in his hand. While the Rajput sword-twirls have become more commonplace in Test matches, Jadeja’s returns in limited overs cricket in India’s colours are underwhelming.
Jadeja in ODIs: 93 innings (136 matches), 1914 runs at an average of 31.37 and SR of 85.29
Jadeja in T20Is: 18 innings (40 matches), 116 runs at an average of 9.66 and SR of 93.54
His numbers across T20s is a little more encouraging, but still not befitting a top all-rounder.
Jadeja in all T20s: 140 innings (196 matches), 2058 runs at an average of 21.89 and SR of 123.09
But having been retained by Chennai Super Kings alongside Dhoni and Suresh Raina, Jadeja is intent on improving his numbers.
“I am focusing more on my batting now. I do not want to be a player who is known for hitting those 20-odd runs,” Jadeja said, having scored the century against Jharkhand with a side strain that restricted him to bowl just two overs with the ball. “I want to play the anchor role, just like I did [on Sunday]. The pain was unbearable sometimes while playing certain shots. But this was really important for my self confidence. It is morale boosting. To chase the target under the circumstances is really special for me.”
Over the years, Jadeja’s inability to live up to his promise as a batsman for India has often been highlighted by moments of inexplicable decision-making. Be it his run-out in that glorious failure that was the run-chase against Australia, led by Sachin Tendulkar’s 175 or his decision to not sacrifice his wicket in a mix-up with Hardik Pandya in the Champions Trophy final in 2017 - Jadeja has far too often under-performed with the bat. Part of this could be explained by him batting lower down the order for country as well as IPL franchise on most occasions.
But if Dhoni sees a potential batting all-rounder in him, it could mean a real chance for Jadeja to make a decisive impact. Among the five spinners in the fray (including Axar Patel) for spots in Kohli’s playing XI, Jadeja perhaps is the most explosive batsman and that could well be his ticket back to the Indian team.