Ravindra Jadeja's uncharacteristic innings
"A lot of times, because of the media scrutiny, people who tend to bat at No. 5 or 6, the thinking becomes, 'I've gone in now after the 43rd-44th over, let's look to play as if I'm hitting, don't get out and go back saying you are not out and everyone is happy.' That's the kind of culture you don't want in the team.
"I feel when it comes to these youngsters, even Manish Pandey in the last game, you know there was no question of hesitation of playing a big shot. That is something you have to encourage, and at the end of the day, the captain, the selectors are there to look at specifically that, because it tells you a lot about the character of the individual. You want brave people in the side. Winning and losing keep on happening. You want good characters in the side."
These are important words, spoken without provocation or context by MS Dhoni after India lost the third ODI of the series in Melbourne. Under Dhoni, India finally got rid of those not-outers and two cricketers much maligned as his favourites, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, have played an important part in purging this syndrome.
Jadeja, in particular, was the epitome of the selfless cricketer, never thinking about personal landmarks and always willing to punch above his weight. He has justly been rewarded with the allrounder's slot in the side, chosen ahead of R Ashwin for his batting and fielding when it comes to limited-overs cricket.
Today Jadeja came in to bat in the 40th over, at No. 6 because Ajinkya Rahane was injured, with India needing 71 runs. He didn't play a shot in anger, didn't try to farm the strike, didn't go and talk to Umesh Yadav and the inexperienced Rishi Dhawan when they committed hara kiri moments after hitting a boundary, and even in the last over, he wasn't backing up at the non-striker's end. Most pertinently, he stayed not out, on just 24 off 27 balls. Jadeja is a better batsman than the tail, far more experienced than Gurkeerat and Rishi, but never looked like he took charge of the situation.
"The main batsman has to communicate, especially with the lower-order batsmen because it's not easy out here," Dhoni said at the end. "He's amongst the most experienced when it comes to the lower-order batsmen, so it's not totally about your batting. In the end, you have to tell the people who are batting with you what the bowler may be doing and what the batsman should be looking at. A bit more communication will definitely help, but I don't think he's somebody who really speaks a lot, so that's something we will have to take into account."
That it has happened with Jadeja is shocking. He spent a lot of time out of the team because he went up and batted selflessly in a World T20 game in England. He can bowl for his captain until his shoulder comes off and doesn't shy away from those dirty overs when getting hit is almost a certainty. On the field, he chases after every ball in his vicinity. This innings is arguably a first with Jadeja and so he must be given the benefit of doubt.
Perhaps the team's instructions were for Jadeja to stay till the end and let others hit out, but if that was the case the team's instructions were flawed since the others kept hitting the wind or kept holing out. Perhaps, as Dhoni said, Jadeja is not a good communicator. Hopefully it is just that.
This is not to apportion blame or to single somebody out in a terrible collapse or to say Jadeja definitely played for his not-out. This is something the team needs to have a chat about. For if this came out of insecurity, it has potential to do much more harm than anything else in that collapse. For there is good reason now for a player to feel insecure about his place in this set-up. Jadeja already feels he was unfairly dropped from the Test side after an ordinary performance in the ODIs last year. As it is, Dhoni is losing his say in selections, and keeps hinting at dissatisfaction with the squads he is given.
"The captain and the selectors are there to look at specifically that [the attitude when you are playing down the order]," Dhoni had said. The captain, though, doesn't have the control he used to in the face of strange selections. After the Brisbane defeat, he was averse to the idea of dropping Ashwin for Rishi, but by the Melbourne ODI, collective minds had been changed. If Ashwin, hailed as the best spinner in the world a week ago, can be dropped after two games, what of Jadeja?
Was this a case of lack of clear thinking when under siege of the start of a disturbing trend? The team needs to find out.
There is cruel prescience to this Jadeja innings. In an unrelated incident, asked about the dearth of allrounders, team director Ravi Shastri had this to say a day before this ODI: "Jaddu showed in the Test series that he has matured a lot. Whenever he batted he played crucial innings. Why not in Australia? When he gets the opportunity… you have to get the opportunity first. We have batted so well at the top that the opportunity hasn't been there. If and when there is a situation, like Australia were [in Melbourne], six down or seven down with another 60 to get. That will be his test."
Jadeja came in with six wickets in hand and with 71 runs to get. He started brightly enough, placing the ball well for couples, which was the need of the hour with six wickets in hand. What followed once the wickets began to fall is not the innings India needed. They need to talk about it.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo