Ravindra Jadeja: Driven by unshakeable belief
Jadeja trusts himself to shine when the team needs him to and that is a huge part of his success story.
As a bowling combination, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja make a formidable pair. One deals in variations and the other in consistency. Together, they give the batters little breathing room and on a wicket that gives them some assistance, they are deadly.
Jadeja has been India’s first-choice spinner in overseas conditions. At home, he is usually used to playing the support role to the ace off-spinner. Even though Jadeja's tally of 263 wickets in 63 Tests is impressive, with 467 wickets in 91 Tests, Ashwin’s numbers are hard to match.
But given that they have to often fight for the same spot when playing overseas, there's no clear-cut first choice, unlike the case of Nathan Lyon whose spot is fixed in Australia’s bowling unit irrespective of conditions and the combination they pick. Hence, it might be argued, for India, the mantle of the lead spinner is still up for grabs. So far, Ashwin has been the leader of the attack in the subcontinent, while Jadeja is the main man in SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia), given his added value as a batter and fielder.
In India, Ashwin plays the attacking role, Jadeja defensive. But, the ongoing Border-Gavaskar series has seen a switch. Jadeja has excelled with two five-wicket hauls, one 10-wicket match haul and a total of 21 wickets in three games. In terms of overall value, being a livewire in the field and a solid lower-order batter, Jadeja is the team's MVP.
What he has done in this series has been impressive also because despite being out of action since last August, he has shed the rust and found the rhythm. He picked up a seven-wicket haul in the only first-class game he played on his comeback trail, against Tamil Nadu. It was enough for the India team management to play him in the crucial series against Australia.
For his Saurashtra team coach, Niraj Odedra, this isn't a surprise though.
"He is a real character," said Odedra. "By character, I mean, one who will always perform under tough conditions. He will always be the one to take wickets at a crucial time, one who makes a run out at a crucial time, and will always get runs at the right time. I have not seen any cricketer who backs himself more than Jadeja does. Every time he comes out of injury, I have seen that he backs himself so much that he doesn’t depend on anybody else; he doesn’t need the media’s backing. He believes in himself so much, that’s why he is performing the way he is performing.”
In Saurashtra’s game against Tamil Nadu in January, Jadeja, who was making his comeback from injury, started slowly. In 24 overs, he got just one wicket in the first innings. Coming into the match, for five months he had only trained at the National Cricket Academy.
“I knew that he was coming back from injury. He had been doing a lot of training at the NCA, but you have to do everything on the ground, how he was going to cope with the heat, how he was going to cope with the conditions?
"But Ravindra being Ravindra, he has always performed extremely well (on his comeback). In the first innings, he had just one wicket but as soon as the wicket started turning after a day and half, he was just unplayable. He ended up getting seven wickets. That’s what people at the top (selectors and team management) were looking at. He proved his point; he bowled 19-20 overs at a stretch in the hot conditions in Chennai. He was ready. That’s why they made him play against Australia. In the series, he did the same, took five wickets in the first match, seven in the second and four in the third,” said Odedra.
Good players are unstoppable in helpful conditions, but you still have to do more than just turn up. For former India spinner Arshad Ayub, the difference between how Jadeja has been bowling in the last two years is his wrist position.
"From the first time I saw him in 2015, he has changed his point of delivery. The wrist position is so good with Jadeja. At the point of delivery when his wrist is facing towards mid-off, he gets the real rip through it. He is doing it more consistently for the last two years. His action has been really good, but the finish he does today, the way he goes behind the ball, I think probably he is one guy if he plays from another few years, without injury, he will cross 400 wickets easily.”
For Odedra, Jadeja's ability to be consistent comes from his leg strength. It helps him maintain a high intensity.
"He is someone who has so much strength in his legs, that’s always been his plus. Because (of which) he has that high intensity, he doesn’t bowl any loose balls, he keeps on bowling that nagging length and that is his biggest strength as well. He is a natural athlete."
Of all the surfaces dished out in the series, the pitch at the Narendra Modi Stadium for the fourth Test will probably be best for batting. The bowlers will have to work harder and India will bank on Jadeja's consistency and high intensity to simply get the job done.