June 28, 2013

Can Jadeja step up (again)?

The Champions Trophy was a coming of age; now he needs to deliver on his promise on the Test match stage

In spite of Shikhar Dhawan's highly skilled and audacious batting, in spite of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's calm and yet out-of-the-box leadership, my player of the tournament at the Champions Trophy was Ravindra Jadeja. It wasn't a difficult choice. Dhawan and Dhoni were giants of the tournament but every time India needed a game-changing moment, Jadeja was in the picture. You sought him out in the field, you counted how many overs he had left and you backed him to get a big over with the bat in the end.

You judge players by whether they comfort you or unsettle you. Images get built over time and create expectation or anxiety. Then they are reinforced. If you fear a bowler is going to concede that big over and he does, the moment stays longer in the mind. So too with the match-winner.

For the first three years of his career, Jadeja unsettled you. If you needed 30 at a run a ball or the opposition needed nine an over in the last five, you worried when he came on. He gave the impression he did too.

In the Champions Trophy, though, his body language was infectious. And he produced the game-changing moments. He got the crucial runs at the end against South Africa (47 not out from 29 balls), produced the run-out of Robin Peterson and bowled nine overs for 31 in a 6.5-an-over game.

West Indies were 103 for 1 inside the 20th over, then lost three wickets for six in four overs, all to Jadeja.

Against Pakistan, he befuddled Misbah-ul-Haq at a crucial moment, and his dismissal of Mahela Jayawardene in the semi-final showed he could get a mighty player of spin undone by cleverly camouflaged change of pace. So, by now, a reputation had been built. You knew he was the captain's go-to cricketer but you waited to see if he could do it on the big day.

At two points in the final, India looked gone. After 14 overs they were 67 for 5, and Dhoni's hope for 130 meant the score had to be doubled in the last six. Virat Kohli set the scene with a largely undervalued 43, but it still needed the final flourish that Jadeja's 33 from 25 provided.

I thought his real graduation came in the last two overs of the game. He bowled the 19th, a Powerplay over, after Ishant Sharma's drama-filled 18th, and conceded a mere four with 19 needed. He might just have given Dhoni his seventh batsman and fifth bowler, and the fact that it didn't surprise anyone showed it was a coming of age. Where once you feared the moment, you were now reassured. Jadeja had climbed the ladder.

For the first three years of his career, Jadeja unsettled you. If you needed 30 at a run a ball or the opposition needed nine an over in the last five, you worried when he came on

He was expected to. In May 2008, Shane Warne introduced me to his "rock star", a young batsman who bowled a bit. On the 26th, Mumbai Indians were playing Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur on a really slow pitch. Chasing 146, Royals were down to 103 for 5 after 17 overs. Forty-three were needed from three, against a side with international bowlers. Royals had two young left-handers batting for them; Niraj Patel of Gujarat and Ravindra Jadeja. They batted fearlessly, ran like the wind between the wickets, and got there off the last ball. Patel was the better batsman that day but Jadeja was the one you remembered because Warne had said he was good.

It was to be a double-edged sword because it raised expectations, and over the next three years it hurt him. I am not sure he was ready for the pressure situations he found himself in, and as he faltered, the burden grew. As the burden grew, it made it more difficult for someone who was still a very young man. By 2011 he was on a downward spiral and the butt of jokes by unforgiving bloggers who hid behind assumed names. You still kept track of him but he needed to hit you with his performances.

He did. The following year he hit three triple-centuries and bowled long spells on surfaces that gave him nothing. It forced him to be accurate and patient, and in retrospect that period away from the limelight forced him to look at his game again. When he got a surprise call up for the Nagpur Test against England, he was able to bowl 70 overs at under two an over. And it was his accuracy that brought him all those wickets against Australia.

Now he must battle expectations again. And he must deliver in conditions that will not be as friendly as the ones England put out. In one-day cricket it may not be as big a challenge as in Test cricket, where India still seek this elusive five-bowler line-up. In Test matches in South Africa, in England, in New Zealand and Australia (the next four on India's calendar), he will have to bat at No. 6, and that is an examination he hasn't faced yet. I believe that is where he must eventually gravitate towards. India's ideal balance will lie in Jadeja becoming the batting allrounder and Ashwin, at No. 8, the bowling allrounder. In Test cricket Jadeja is still very much work in progress.

The Champions Trophy has been a giant leap for him. And the next 20 months are full of opportunity and challenge. He must relish both.

Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer, and a commentator on IPL and other cricket. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • uncle bob on July 1, 2013, 16:37 GMT

    I have been a Jadeja Fan all along. Even when people were making fun of him. Now he has shown his class and utility in limited over games, he is relaxed and happy. But the greatest strength of Jadeja is in playing long innings (3 triple centuries) and that's what gives me the confidence that his batting in test will make him great. If only Dhoni can send him to pair with Pujara up the order and allow him to play his natural game without the pressure and expectation of scoring quick and fast like ODIs. Jadeja will repeat his feat of scoring three triple centuries in domestic cricket. Go Sir Ji go.

  • Vibhaker on June 30, 2013, 11:28 GMT

    Ref Sir Ivor comparison of Jadeja with Vinoo Mankad has a special echo for me, coming from Jamnagar and being a nephew of the Great Vinoo. Yes, Jadeja does pride to the great tradition of awesome cricketers hailing from Jamnagar / Saurashtra. While his bowling has the edge that Mankad showed, Jadeja has some way to go in his batting record to be compared to the great man. After all, Mankad used to open for India, and that too after toiling for countless overs in an innings. But given chance and luck, I am sure Jadeja will prove a worthy successor. The good news is that his bowling will succeed even on wickets outside the sub-continent, given his relative pace and ability to slide and skid the ball off the wicket!

  • Daison on June 30, 2013, 5:09 GMT

    One big difference from Jadeja 2 years ago and Jadeja now is - NOW HE IS SOOO HAPPY TO BE THERE!!! You can remember how tensed he looked when coming on to bat at a crucial stage or having asked to bowl at a similar stage! Look at him now!!! When there is a critical situation, he STANDS UP AND GETS COUNTED. No matter what anybody thinks of him, but whatever favorable situations the opposition finds themselves in, until they have dealt with what Jadeja has to dish out, they are not through. Be in the late overs flourish with the bat or those accurate "fast-medium spin" bowling! Gradually he is getting there, and more importantly the opposition is having to make plans for him!!!

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2013, 18:16 GMT

    Jadeja cant be called either a batting allrounder or a bowling allrounder. He gives THE BEST in both areas n so undoubtedly SIR is best to be called, not to forget his fielding. I had to mention this,His fielding at deep midwicket is so fearless . He picks themm soo quicklyy n throws them damn accurately. Seriouslyy a Big asset for Indian Cricket. Good to see him getting his rhythm back. N thnxx to Captain cool for having using him soo wiselyy. Apart from his cool mind , SIR is also a mantra for MSDs success. I wuld also love to see YUVI n JADDU to bowl together the middle overs for India.

  • PeterJerome on June 29, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    @Abhinav Pathak: Yuvraj Singh is leaps and bounds ahead of Sir Ravindra Jadeja, but what puts me off about Yuvraj is his lethargic attitude towards the game. Expected to see a 180 degree change in his attitude after his return, but he is still found wanting in that area. Personally, I miss him too. All the best RJ. Big challenge ahead, nail it or fail it. The ball is in your court.

  • Karun on June 29, 2013, 11:17 GMT

    I believe a fair amount of credit should be given to Dhoni. Only under his captaincy has this great talent been able to flourish. If any other captain would have been then who knows if we would have a world class all-rounder soo young in the Indian cricket team.

  • Amit on June 29, 2013, 10:14 GMT

    He's too good a bowler to be just a batting all-rounder. He has all the makings of a pure all-rounder, something we have missed since the great Kapil Dev.

  • rahul on June 29, 2013, 8:31 GMT

    Jadeja is a symbol of declining cricket standards. His bowling is part time spinner quality, but these days players can't even handle that. His batting is T20 specialist quality, as is good for 30-40 run cameos. Fielding is good given that he is from India.

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2013, 7:07 GMT

    He may have been proved very good in Spinning Indian pitches .....but remember he is playing in place of Yuvraj singh and evrytym I compare them...evryone knows who's better

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    He has matured a lot and played some crucial knock with the bat.. From the start of his career dhoni was worried on jadeja's batting than bowling.. Now dhoni will be a happy man.. Yes it is early days ,his first class batting avg is over 50.. He can be the good all rounder in tests also...