Jadeja's new avatar
Included in the Indian equation devised to flummox Australia over four Tests at home is a variable: Ravindra Jadeja, allrounder. In India, Jadeja is most widely recognised as a limited-overs specialist, was anointed an IPL 'rockstar' by Shane Warne and is often slotted in as a prototype modern player, besotted only by the mod-cons thrown up by Twenty20 cricket.
But just because he sports a tattoo - his nickname, 'Jaddu' with flowers around it - owns a Hayabusa motorcycle and a horse (among other forms of transportation) doesn't mean Jadeja's ambitions are restricted merely to razzle-dazzle. At one point last season, Jadeja went up to his Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra and said, "I want to play in white clothes for India." Mitra told him he would have to improve his batting and internalise switching gears.
The big-picture message: "Get 100 runs in a session in a Test - and the Test can still be open. You have to make it a habit to stay." In 2009-2010, Jadeja had moved up the order from No. 5 & 6 for Saurashtra to No. 4 behind Cheteshwar Pujara. The move gave him the opportunity to reel off big scores, including the three Ranji Trophy triple-centuries for which he is now famous.
In a batting-heavy domestic competition, Jadeja is the first Indian to score three triples, with two in 2012-13. It is his most recent - against Railways at his home ground in Rajkot - that Mitra believes has put him in contention for India. "His first 50 came in 162 balls - what does that tell you? He was not the same Ravindra Jadeja everyone had seen in ODIs and T20s." Mitra calls Jadeja a "three-in-one player" - and says, "had he played in the Mumbai Test against England, he would've been a different bowler there."
Jadeja is in the white clothes these days, having made his Test debut in Nagpur three months ago. The hard yards of being a genuine allrounder in Test cricket lie ahead. His selection into the Test XI still causes much mumbling. This is a bits-and-pieces player, neither specialist batsman nor specialist bowler, who can tonk the ball and bowl a tight stump-to-stump line as a reserve spinner on heinous wickets. (Great relief then that his fielding is based on a modern regulation: thou shalt not pass.) But a Test allrounder? His state coach says, "He is only 23-24 years old, he is an intelligent cricketer and is a natural. He shouldn't be over-coached. Give him some time, it is only his second Test. I want him to be the best allrounder for India."
In real terms, Jadeja is the reason captain M S Dhoni has been pushed one spot up the order to No.6. Dhoni has declared that his position at No.6 is a given until Jadeja gets "comfortable and used to international Test cricket." If he did well, "according to the amount of talent he has" that batting spot would be reconsidered. While Jadeja's Test figures so far read 8-260 at 32.50 at under two runs an over, his two innings at the crease have produced 12 and 16.
The demands on Jadeja's batting will only increase. Looking back on his dismissal in Chennai, bowled letting go one from Pattinson that knocked back his off stump, Jadeja said, "I had played 45 balls and had even got set a little. Had I played for 15-20 minutes more, I'm sure I would have been able to bat longer." He admitted to feeling a little "nervous" at not being able to score runs off his strokes. "It's not that I was feeling pressure or anything, just not scoring runs. I should have been more careful." Mitra sets another standard for the man who wants whites. "I would like to see him play 10 consecutive maiden overs in Test cricket. Turn solid defence into a part of his offence."
No matter what is made of his role in the India Test team, there is one constant Jadeja sticks to across all formats. He will not choose any category to be fitted into, between batting or bowling all-rounder. "My thinking is that whenever I play for India I have to score runs and I have to take wickets. If I keep doing only one out of those two jobs, then I won't be an all-rounder which is what I'm here for. As much as I can, I have to improve in both departments."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo