Jalaj Saxena: record-making allrounder, but not for Indian sides

Jalaj Saxena celebrates a ton Sivaraman Kitta

Consider these numbers: 3488 runs at 47.78 with eight hundreds, and 185 wickets at 23.18 with 13 five-wicket hauls in an innings. That's what Jalaj Saxena has racked up since Ranji Trophy 2012-13, having won the Lala Amarnath award for being the best allrounder in domestic cricket in India three times during this period.

In that same time period, Saxena has represented India A in first-class cricket only three times, all three in 2013, which the cricketer finds strange. And it's hard to fault him for that, given that his three "best allrounder" awards have all come after that - in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18. Last season, he was also the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy.

On Thursday, Saxena became the only Indian to hit a century and take an eight-wicket innings-haul in the same match twice. He had done it against Rajasthan last season, and this year he did it against Andhra. Against Rajasthan, the 184 runs he got are the most for any player who has taken 10 wickets in a match in the Ranji Trophy. He's also the only player apart from Anil Kumble to take 16 wickets in a Ranji Trophy match.

In his third year as a professional with Kerala, Saxena, 31, was happy he could keep churning out such performances, but admitted he wanted more. "I'm happy I am able to replicate the performances I had in MP with Kerala too," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Khushi ki baat hai. I have the self-satisfaction of doing well, but I would have had greater satisfaction if performances like these would have taken me to higher levels too. If I had got rewards with the awards, it would have felt better."

While selector-baiting is as old as sport itself, it is revealing that in all these years Saxena has never played in an Irani Cup match - the annual affair between the Ranji Trophy champions and the best of the Rest of India. Saxena hasn't been a Ranji champion yet, so he has been eligible to be selected in the Rest of India sides every time. As inexplicable is the arm's-length distance at which he has been kept from India A sides, particularly given the greater frequency of A series over the past few years.

"I still don't think I've got many opportunities," Saxena said. "The last time I played a first-class match for India A was four years ago. I had taken six wickets in that match and I was the highest wicket-taker in that series. After that I haven't played any [first-class] cricket for India. As for one-dayers, I played a couple recently [against Australia A in the quadrangular series in August] and I think I performed well in them.

"I spoke to the selectors and asked them [about this non-inclusion]. They told me that I am in their sights and they are watching me, and if they get the chance, they'll give me an opportunity," he added.

That might sound like words of comfort. It might equally sound like the words a skilled HR professional tells a disgruntled employee.

Saxena's cricketing journey began in Bhilai, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, alongside brother Jatin, who is four years older.

"When Jatin started playing cricket, we were living in Bhilai where my father worked. I also picked it up because of him," Saxena said. "I played from an early age, but I thought only at 16-17 years old that I could have a career in cricket. We shifted from Bhilai to Indore, and I joined the Cricket Club of India (CCI), which is Sanjay Jagdale's club. That is where I learned what is actual cricket and what is professionalism. Sanjay Jagdale has a very important role in my career. We didn't have such good facilities in Bhilai, and we got them in Indore for the first time."

The professionalism, Saxena says, has stayed with him all these years. He attributed his consistent performances to the work he does on his fitness. "If you see, the job I'm doing is difficult. Thiruvananthapuram is a hot place. I bowl long spells, and open the batting," Saxena said. "This match [against Andhra] I was on the field a lot. Bowled on the first day, batted all through the second day, bowled some 19 overs on the trot on the third day. So you need to be fit to do this in this heat. In my off-season, I devote equal time on cricket skills and fitness."

Saxena's put in the hard work, and he has the results to show for it. A lot of results, over several seasons. Will higher honours come?