Ravindra Jadeja has been carrying an injury from even before he landed in Australia, and yet he was named in the 13 for the Perth Test even when not fully fit, India's coach Ravi Shastri has revealed. In trying to defend himself against criticism from all corners regarding the selection of the XI in Perth, Shastri has not only opened himself up to more criticism, but has also gone against what captain Virat Kohli said after the end of the Test.
Kohli said that India would have played four fast bowlers even if the leading spinner R Ashwin had been fit. India went ahead with four quicks, a move that backfired and came under severe criticism from former players, most notably Sunil Gavaskar. Not only did India not have a spinner who could provide them control with the ball - the opposition spinner Nathan Lyon was the Man of the Match - they also fielded four No 11s by selecting Umesh Yadav ahead of Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
However, Shastri took a potshot at the critics, saying they had no idea of the facts and that if Jadeja had been fully fit, he would have played. In the same breath, Shastri also went on to suggest they would risk Jadeja at 80% in Melbourne, which is roughly where he was at in Perth, if Ashwin is not back to full fitness.
"When you are millions of miles away, it is very easy to fire blanks," Shastri said of the critics of the selection. "Problem with Jaddu was that he had taken an injection four days into coming to Australia because of some stiffness in his shoulder, and it took a while for that injection to settle down. So when you look at Perth, we felt he was about 70-80% fit, and we didn't want to risk that in Perth. If he is 80% here, he will play, that's the answer."
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In what should be a serious question against how the players' injuries are managed, Shastri went on to reveal Jadeja had in fact not been at 100% when he boarded the flight to Australia. "When he came here, he felt some stiffness, and he felt that in India as well but he played domestic cricket after that," Shastri said. "Still felt stiff in the shoulder, and he was injected again and it takes time to settle. It has taken longer than we expected, and we wanted to be careful. Last thing you want is someone breaking down after five-ten overs, and then we are stuck for players to pick for Melbourne and Sydney."
*Later on Sunday evening, the BCCI sent out a press release that suggested Jadeja would be fit for the Melbourne Test.
The release detailed that Jadeja had taken a guided injection on November 2, after complaining of discomfort in his left shoulder during the ODI series against West Indies that preceded the Australia tour. The injection gave Jadeja "good relief" and he went on to play a Ranji Trophy match for Saurashtra against Railways, in which he bowled 64 overs. Thereafter he was declared fit for the Australia tour.
"After Jadeja flew to Australia, he then complained of a recurrence of his symptoms on 30th November during the match against the CA XI in Sydney," the release said. "He was given another injection into a slightly different site on that day. This injection along with his rehabilitation program improved his symptoms.
"In the lead up to the Perth Test match on 14th December, the management and the all-rounder were of the opinion that the intensity of his bowling in the nets could have been higher, to match the standards required for such an intensely fought series. For this reason, he was not considered for selection for the 2nd Test match.
"Mr. Jadeja's left shoulder has continued to improve and he is now available for the 3rd Test match of the series in Melbourne."
India's selections and injury management have both been contentious for a while now. India's last blunder was to play Ashwin when he was not fully fit in Southampton. This time it has come to injury management. Jadeja, who last played as the lone spinner in a live rubber back in 2014, has been travelling with the team only as a specialist 12th man. Would he have been better off going through proper rehab instead of taking injections and bowling in the nets and then fielding for a considerable period of time as a substitute not just in the infield but also in the deep, from where he has to get long throws in?
Ashwin trains for return at the MCG nets
The Indian team's preparations for the Boxing Day Test were in full earnest as they hit the nets at the iconic venue
When the BCCI sent out a media release with a fitness bulletin on eve of the Perth Test, it didn't even include Jadeja's status. Despite repeated inquiries about fitness status of all players all the time, the BCCI media management failed to make this situation known. If Jadeja was not fully fit and if the team management indeed wanted to play a spinner, they had Kuldeep Yadav in the squad, who was, not log ago, preferred to Jadeja when India played two spinners in the Lord's Test.
It is curious that Kohli named Jadeja in his 13 for the Perth Test, and then later said that his final selection was based on conditions and not on fitness. "Yes, we could have considered that," Kohli had said when asked if Ashwin would have played had he been fit. "If you see, the rough didn't have much assistance. It was just the pace on the ball that Lyon bowled that he got the wickets that he got. We as a team didn't want to think that we definitely wanted to consider a spinning option on this pitch, especially having a look at the pitch on day one and how we thought it would play on the first three days, and exactly played out that way. We thought a fast bowler is going to be more productive and more helpful for us as a team."
"When you look at Perth, we felt he was about 70-80% fit, and we didn't want to risk that in Perth. If he is 80% here, he will play, that's the answer." Ravi Shastri on Ravindra Jadeja's fitness
Shastri didn't feel criticism from India mattered because it was coming from the northern hemisphere while the team is in the southern half of the world. "We have to do what's best for the team, as simple as that," Shastri said. "Question was asked about Jadeja, which I answered, and I don't think there was any other selection dilemma. If there was, then not my problem.
"[Critical] Comments are [coming from] too far away, we are in the southern hemisphere."
India are now left with selection dilemmas aplenty. They have a 19-player squad, of whom three are under a fitness cloud and one returning from injury has played only one first-class match on his comeback. Out of the remaining 15, openers are a big concern. If they make a change there, it would mean a debut or a funky move of turning a middle-order batsman into an opener.
"It is a big concern, that's obvious," Shastri said of the openers. "And responsibility and accountability has to be taken by the top order, and I am sure they have got the experience and exposure over the last few years to get out there and deliver."
However, fitness remains the biggest issue. R Ashwin and Rohit Sharma, both unfit during the last game, trained with the team but they didn't go at full pelt. They went through the initial warm-up drills before feeling their way into their disciplines. Ashwin bowled at an empty net before taking throwdowns. Rohit was among the last set to have a hit. "Ashwin we will evaluate over the next 48 hours," Shastri said. "Rohit Sharma looks good, and has made a very good improvement, but we will see how he pulls up tomorrow. He looks good as of today."
Jadeja was seen having a long chat with physio Patrick Farhart, and he had a long bowl in the nets, which he has been doing before all the Tests. One option might be to slot Hardik Pandya right back in, but Shastri didn't want to be irresponsible in how Pandya's return is handled.
"It gives you that option but he has not played much first-class cricket," Shastri said. "He has just played one game after injury so we have to be very careful before we actually decide whether he plays or not."
GMT 1504 *The story was updated to include details of the BCCI release on Jadeja's fitness