Is this finally it? The long-anticipated arrival of Ravindra Jadeja as a finished package across formats?
For someone whose bowling style relies so much on flat trajectories, Jadeja is a bit of an anomaly. His is an approach you wouldn't expect to meet too much success in red-ball cricket, but he has smashed that stereotype with staggering numbers: he takes nearly five wickets a game in Tests at 23.50. But he is not India's first choice overseas. In the England Test series, he had to wait till the fifth Test to get a game, and he managed to take seven wickets in it. Since then, it's been a remarkable two months for him. To be more precise, it's been two months or so of making use of his opportunities..
The Asia Cup call-up came out of the blue. In hindsight, him replacing the injured Hardik Pandya in the UAE made sense, as chief selector MSK Prasad said recently that they haven't identified anyone in India on the same level as him.
But at the time, Jadeja had been out of ODIs for more than a year, following a drastic decline in his 50-overs bowling, starting in 2015. Jadeja averaged 49.50 with the ball that year, 85.66 in 2016, and 60.12 in 2017. He took 21 wickets in 27 matches during that period, and his economy was consistently over 5.
First, it's taken some work - considering those numbers - for Jadeja to come so smoothly back into the XI, and, second, to push out Yuzvendra Chahal who has been among the world's best bowlers this year.
Virat Kohli said after Jadeja's four-wicket haul in the fifth ODI: "He has obviously gone back and worked quite a bit, especially in white-ball cricket to come back and perform like this. Obviously you are going to have a one-off game like Vizag where people are going to go after you. But apart from that, he has been very good. He has been smart about what he wants to do with the field. [As a fielder] there have been no questions about his ability. With the bat and ball he has matured a lot now and brings balance to any side."
Balance is essential to the discussion around Jadeja now. While this opportunity has come in the absence of Pandya, it's hard to imagine that he won't keep his place when Pandya returns. With Kedar Jadhav being used increasingly as a bowling option, India can now have three spinners in the team without having to pick either of Kuldeep Yadav or Chahal. They can also have four spinners and Pandya as a third seamer. And in either of those cases, they would have Jadeja at No. 8, who played crucial knocks under pressure in the Asia Cup and made his first Test century last month.
"It depends. When Hardik is fit and fine to play, you have to see what is the combination you have to take in the World Cup," Kohli said. "If Hardik is fit, Kedar becomes a spin option as well. Hardik becoming fit also gives you four seaming options, along with Kedar and one more spinner. You might need one more spin option. Jadeja becomes the key there with the team balance. In the Test matches as well, I think he batted and bowled very well. I get a sense that he understands his game much better."
Not a lot has changed with Jadeja's bowling. He is still rushing through his overs and hitting a good length with balls in stumps with the line. But in the time outside the ODI team, a high volume of Test cricket seems to have brought more tactical direction to his bowling, and an overall relaxing of his bowling speeds. Every Jadeja over now seems to have a plan of his own making, and he has been adroit in bowling to those plans.
He has two four-wicket hauls since his return to the ODI team, and his story isn't too different from batsman Ambati Rayudu's. Neither of them were at the centre of India's long-term ODI plans coming into the year but have returned with improvements to their games. The management has sent out a clear message about Rayudu and his World Cup prospects. Will it be long before they admit the same about Jadeja?