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'Fitness has transformed my game' - Jadhav

In 2010, Kedar Jadhav was drafted into the Delhi Daredevils XI at the last minute, in an away game at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. It was unlikely he would play but instead he was handed a debut just before the toss. His captain in that match, Dinesh Karthik, who forgot to even make a mention of him, may have been forgiven for doing so because the batting line-up boasted Virender Sehwag, David Warner and AB de Villiers.

Warner and de Villiers were not the stalwarts they are currently, but their presence with Sehwag still made for a formidable top three. In such circumstances, Jadhav's chances of making an impression were minimal. However, he did so, and in some style: a sparkling half-century off just 29 balls on debut set the tone for a competitive total and, eventually, a win. He was named the Player of the Match, and as far as IPL inductions go, this was as grand as they come.

Seven years on, Jadhav returned to the venue of his memorable IPL debut a leaner and fitter athlete. This time he was playing for Royal Challengers against the side that first invested in him. He wasn't a nervous debutant this time, nor a finisher, but a batting lynchpin for the home side in the absence of the injured Virat Kohli and de Villiers. The onus was on him to repay the trust and he didn't disappoint.

"I have never wanted to be a player who will just get into the side; I have always wanted to be the player who will lead the side in matches with performances," he said, after his match-winning 37-ball 69 helped Royal Challengers register their first win of IPL 2017. "This is how I train my mind and prepare. Whatever you are seeing is my approach, and I am converting it."

The way he paced himself was one of the highlights of his knock: having consumed 17 deliveries for his 15, he launched a savage attack, hitting 54 off the next 20. Amit Mishra was one of the bowlers who bore the brunt of Jadhav's attack, conceding 24 off the 13th over, including two sixes and two fours. Royal Challengers had been 74 for 3 at the start of that over and Jadhav's charge signalled the change in momentum they were desperately looking for.

The shots Jadav brought to the fore were not wild swings or heaves, but calculated strokes. While the flat-batted forehand stems from a generous upbringing in tennis-ball cricket, both the inside-out shovel and the across-the-line heave revealed a new dimension to his batting. "At the age of 15, I was improvising. Once I got power, I started hitting big shots. I keep all the options open and just react to the ball," he said of his game. "I just react to the ball - whatever ball comes - because I can play almost all the shots."

Jadhav was left out after only four games last season and the changes he has made since then are evident. He is slimmer, compared to the stocky build he had until not so long ago. That happened because he made fitness a priority. Watching Kohli train day in and day out in the last edition left him with no option but to look inward.

"Last year, I didn't play too many games, that gave me good time to work on my fitness and fielding because batting was always there but these two things were not up to the mark as a professional cricketer," he said. "I got enough time to train with Shankar Basu. That has transformed my game. I am feeling much stronger, fitter."

He also emphasised that fitness has helped him become more consistent. Between the two editions of the IPL, Jadhav has established himself as a first-choice middle-order batsman in the Indian team. He was particularly impressive in his most recent outing, the ODIs against England. He amassed 232 runs in three games, at 144.09, and bagged the Player-of-the-Series award.

In the first ODI, he walked out to bat at 63 for 4 in front of his home crowd in Pune and stunned England with a match-winning century in a 351-run chase. He followed it up with a 75-ball 90 in Kolkata that brought India back from the brink of a hopeless situation. Even though victory eluded the hosts, his knock earned him praise from the team management. Jadhav hopes this wave of confidence does not fade anytime soon.

"I am in a phase where I am hitting the ball well. The experience part is also there. I have been playing first-class cricket for the past ten years. Everything is going for me. It is the management's decision to bat me higher, and I am supporting them with performances like these."