“He has gone to the dark side…become a proper batsman. Send him back to No. 7”
Former South Africa pacer-turned-commentator Shaun Pollock was getting restless watching Ravindra Jadeja bat in Ranchi on Sunday when he uttered these words on-air. Jadeja was batting on 41 at that time and had already played more than a 100 deliveries by then going on to score his 13th Test 50 (118 balls) before being dismissed the very next ball. Even if you put aside the slightly-partisan humour in Pollock’s comments, it is hard to ignore the underlying sentiment hidden in the statement.
Frankly, this is not the Jadeja we know. We have seen the all-rounder slog his way to sword-slinging celebrations many times before. Most Indian cricket fans would remember well his stroke-filled 68 at Lord’s in 2014 or 86* at Kennington Oval 4 years later or his maiden Test hundred vs West Indies at his home ground just last year. But with his latest elevation to No. 6 in the batting order – mind you, ahead of R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha – something seems to be different with Jadeja. As Pollock pointed out, Jadeja seems to be playing more like a proper batsman now. And why shouldn’t he?
To answer the question we need to go back a few years to when Jadeja made his Test debut. A lot of people tend to forget this or only use it to poke fun at the Saurashtra all-rounder but it is worth remembering that Jadeja was selected in the longest format on the back of a first-class average of 53.66 to go along with 3 triple-hundreds. Proper batsman, did you say?
Jadeja’s promotion to No. 6 hasn’t been out of the blue either. Since India’s 2016 tour of West Indies, he has scored 1226 runs in 40 Test innings at an average of 47.15, with 12 fifties and a hundred (495 runs at 20.62 with a lone 50 before that). The difference of late has been that Jadeja is not just playing at No. 6 but also batting like one.
Take, for example, his 91 in the last Pune Test. He took his time early labouring to 9 off 44 before even hitting his 1st boundary. But as India grew desperate for a declaration, Jadeja upped the ante with 82 runs off his last 60 deliveries to grind South Africa in the dirt. In the 2nd innings in Pune, he was sent at No. 4 as India were in search of quick runs. Jadeja responded by smashing 3 sixes on his way to an entertaining 40 off 32 balls to force the issue on South Africa.
In Ranchi on Sunday, Jadeja looked set to follow the same template as he knew that his side wasn’t in a safe position when he arrived at the crease. For a batsman who never used to shy away from taking his chances against the spinners, Jadeja was pretty measured in his approach as he hit his first aggressive shot off the tweakers only off the 113th delivery he faced.
Basically all this means that Jadeja is now assuming his all-rounder role with more purpose than ever before and it’s a great sign for India, who at times might be tempted to go with a batsman short. As he showed in Pune and Ranchi, Jadeja 2.0 will only make that decision easier.
6, 6, 0, 1, 6, 0, 6, 0, 6, OUT: that’s how Umesh Yadav’s cameo of 31 runs went in Ranchi on Sunday. Umesh had replaced India’s declaration specialist Jadeja with India still 50 runs away from the 500-run mark and only Shahbaz Nadeem and Mohammed Shami to follow. But the fact that Umesh had walked ahead of Shami, was a clear indication of Virat Kohli’s plans. He wanted him to go for his shots. It would be an understatement to say that Umesh didn’t disappoint.
By the time his top-edge was caught by Heinrich Klaasen as Umesh tried another one of his swipes, his 31-run innings became the fastest 30+ score in Test history. Within moments of his arrival, Umesh had brought the crowd on its feet after an hour or so of attritional cricket from Jadeja and Ashwin had dared to inspire the spectators towards a nice afternoon nap. As he walked back after his whirlwind knock, he got a huge round of applause from the crowd which could have rivalled the one Rohit Sharma got after his maiden double hundred just a few hours ago. That’s quite high praise. But Umesh wasn’t done yet.
When he next returned on the field, he made sure the crowd rose in unison for him again as he bounced out Quinton de Kock with a vicious snorter on the last ball of his one and only over. It was a sight that prompted Sunil Gavaskar, who was on-air at that time, to almost jump in excitement remarking that it was a sign of the changing times seeing Indian bowlers bouncing out foreign batsmen. Who knows what further Umesh could have achieved under fading lights before bad light forced early Stumps. Nonetheless, on Sunday in Ranchi, Umesh and Jadeja could have very well sung the song in unison: the times they are a-changin’.