India are chasing a target in excess of 300 with the series on a knife-edge. The team’s best batsman is playing a brilliant innings but he is running out of partners. The target is getting closer, but with the finish line in sight, he is dismissed. There is, presumably, a stunned silence across living rooms in India.

Now, with Ravindra Jadeja at the non-striker’s end, surely India cannot lose after getting this close to an impressive win in a run-chase?

The first time this happened was in 2009. When Sachin Tendulkar fell for 175 against Australia, India needed 19 runs off 17 balls with three wickets in hand. Three balls later, however, Jadeja was dismissed, thanks to a calamitous run out. India lost the match in Hyderabad and Jadeja, in the eyes of many a Indian cricket fan, lost some of his credibility as an all-rounder.

The second time this happened was in 2019. When Virat Kohli fell for 85 off 81 balls against West Indies, India needed 30 runs off 23 balls with four wickets in hands. At that moment, the Indian captain could not quite believe what he had done. His reactions as he walked off ranged from angry to disappointed: a whole spectrum of emotions on his face as he slowly made his way off the field, knowing he might have suffered a rare failure in completing a successful run-chase. He later said in the post-match presentation that he had a nervous phase while getting towards the dressing room. It was an uncommon “what have I done!” moment for him in an ODI.

Fifteen balls later, however, India emerged as winners of the match with Kohli jumping with joy in the dressing room. And this time around, Jadeja was around to celebrate the winning moment in the middle as he helped his side cross the finish line.

It was hard not to immediately think back to that moment in 2009: when Jadeja had almost became a villain for many and to realise how far he has come as a batsman, 10 years later. The year 2019 marked another significant step in Jadeja’s evolution as an all-rounder whose batting skills can be trusted to come good more often than not.

Jadeja's batting over the years (all 3 formats)

Matches (inns) Runs HS Avg SR 50s / 100s Balls per inngs
year 2009 19 (13) 257 60* 28.55 77.64 2 25.46
year 2010 25 (15) 343 61* 28.58 78.13 2 29.27
year 2011 14 (11) 220 78 27.50 86.61 1 23.09
year 2012 15 (12) 126 24* 14.00 66.66 0 15.75
year 2013 40 (28) 555 61* 29.21 79.28 1 25.00
year 2014 30 (27) 638 87 35.44 88.61 5 26.67
year 2015 16 (13) 222 38 18.50 59.83 0 28.54
year 2016 31 (23) 439 90 31.35 71.61 3 26.65
year 2017 21 (21) 406 70* 33.83 72.50 4 26.67
year 2018 13 (11) 296 100* 37.00 64.20 1 / 1 41.91
year 2019 29 (23) 693 91 46.20 71.51 42.13
Stats courtesy: ESPNCricinfo

The table above sums up how much Jadeja’s batting has improved in the last two seasons. After ending the long wait for an international century in 2018, he went on to have his best year as a batsman in 2019. This calendar year saw Jadeja score the most number of international runs, have the best average (an increase of nearly 10 points from 2018), and register most number of 50-plus scores over 12 months.

That he did not have his best strike-rate in a year in 2019 also is an indication that he has matured as a batsman: he does not just try to slog his way out of trouble.

But the most significant number is the amount of time Jadeja spent in the middle, signified by the balls faced per innings. In 2018 and 2019, the two years where his Test batting stocks rose leaps and bounds, Jadeja has faced more than 40 balls on an average per international innings (with 2019, a tad better than 2018): that number has never been more than 30 in his previous nine years as an international cricketer.

This year also saw Jadeja become a regular No 6 batsman for India in Tests (although that is unlikely to be an option when India travel abroad) and deliver consistently. And who can forget that day when he almost single-handedly took India into the final of the World Cup before the men in blue fell agonisingly short in the two-day international against New Zealand. From being unable to finish off simple targets, that innings (coming after the bitter incident involving Sanjay Manjrekar) showed he was up for a fight.

And all the aforementioned numbers came to life together in Cuttack on Sunday. Stats help one understand the improvement but if you had to watch one innings that proved his development, go back and watch his innings against West Indies in the series-decider.

Sure, a bilateral series win won’t make up for a World Cup semi-final defeat but Jadeja made sure he was on the winning side at the end of a tricky run-chase this time around. He played second fiddle when Kohli was around and did not throw his wicket away after his captain uncharacteristically lost his.

“It was outstanding to see others finishing the game,” Kohli said after the match. “Honestly when I got out I had a nervous phase, but I looked back at Jaddu and he looked confident. They just changed the game in three overs. Watching from outside is way more difficult.”

But being in the moment, with Shardul Thakur playing a delightful cameo that will be remembered for a long time, Jadeja took India home and end the year on a high. Reflecting on the year, Kohli later had to say a lot of nice things, while admitting the World Cup was a disappointment. But even if Jadeja’s name did not get a mention in that little speech, his emergence as a batsman who can score the difficult runs for his side and be a dependable option to fight it out is one of the big positives for Indian cricket in 2019.