Jadeja no longer playing second fiddle

Ravindra Jadeja took three wickets in the first session Associated Press

Before India began their 2016-17 home season, it was widely believed that visiting teams would face their sternest first-innings test from R Ashwin's flight and guile, and that Ravindra Jadeja would mostly play a holding role before coming into his own in the second innings, when the pitches break up and amplify the danger of his accuracy and natural variations.

As it has turned out, on what have largely been traditional subcontinental pitches that have started out as good batting surfaces, Jadeja has outbowled Ashwin in the first innings. On Friday, his 5 for 124 on a placid Ranchi surface helped him leapfrog Ashwin to the top of India's first-innings wicket charts for the season. Jadeja increased his tally to 36, at an average of 26.13 and a strike rate of 61.0 while Ashwin has 34 at 32.52 and 69.6.

Their roles have been reversed significantly in the second innings: Ashwin has destroyed teams, taking 43 wickets at 18.90 and striking once every 38.6 balls. Jadeja has been a force of constriction in the second innings, with an economy rate of 1.98, but has taken far fewer wickets - 27 - and far less frequently, once every 60.8 balls, at a slightly worse average - 20.18 - as well.

Jadeja's evolution into a subtler and more multi-dimensional bowler is possibly one reason for this unusual development. Another reason is that Jadeja's traditional strength of tireless accuracy is an excellent first-innings weapon too.

On the second morning in Ranchi, Jadeja came on after a slightly loose start from Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma, who had given away 23 in the first five overs of the day. In the process, Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell had stretched their overnight partnership to 182.

Smith was on 123 when Jadeja came on, and Maxwell on 98. Jadeja bowled three straight maidens to them, two to Smith and one to Maxwell, via his time-tested method of bowling a stump-to-stump line, on a good length or just short of it, while getting some balls to go straight on, some to turn just a bit, and one ball to really, really rip off the pitch.

It's a familiar moment for Indian spectators, that one ball from Jadeja that turns square and transforms him from persistent to, if not predatory then, certainly problematic. Maxwell faced it, on 99, tried to defend it, and was beaten by a long way, doing well not to follow the turn with his hands.

Jadeja had turned a few on the first day, but nothing to this degree.

On the first day, Jadeja had bowled 154 balls to Smith and Maxwell, conceding 67 runs, of which 38 had come in singles, twos and threes. On the second morning, the runs had evaporated. Part of this had to do with India's field, set to save singles rather than in-out as they had been for large parts of day one. A lot of it, though, was down to Jadeja finding a spot on the pitch that was reacting interestingly to the impact of the ball, and hitting it, or the general area around it, over and over.

"The wicket, there were a few areas where it was a little bit dry. He kept on hitting around it and they reacted differently," Maxwell later said. "You saw a couple of times I got beaten on the outside by him. I missed them by a fair margin.

"I was in. If I'm in and missing them by that far you can tell it's not that easy at that stage. He was hitting a consistent spot where if it skidded on straight it was hitting the stumps and if it spun you had a chance to nick it. It was just an awkward length. It took him a while to find that length against us. We were able to find singles and manipulate the field a bit yesterday afternoon, but today he was pretty accurate."

In his fourth over of the morning, Jadeja finally broke through; causing an explosion of dust with a delivery that Maxwell looked to punch off the back foot. Sharp turn, bounce, an edge through to Wriddhiman Saha, and Australia, having last lost a wicket at 140, were now 331 for 5.

Smith continued to score runs, and found a couple of lower-order allies in Matthew Wade and Steve O'Keefe to push Australia past 400. Jadeja, though, kept hitting that awkward length Maxwell spoke of.

He got Wade to stretch forward twice in two overs to balls landing in the rough outside the left-hander's off stump. Both times, he didn't get close enough to the pitch of the ball to smother it. The first one turned, hit the inside edge and pad, and looped up wide of forward short-leg. The second one bounced just as much, but didn't turn, and Wade nicked it behind.

Pat Cummins was next in; he had only just flown to India, and had probably heard about the method the other Australian right-handers were trying to use against Jadeja on this trip; play for the one that doesn't turn, don't mind too much if it does turn and beat the outside edge.

Unfortunately for Cummins, this was a lesson for turning pitches, and not this first-innings Ranchi surface. The first ball he faced landed on a firm spot on the pitch, on a middle-and-off line, and turned, albeit not extravagantly. No puff of dust this time. Cummins, stretching forward, played inside the line of it, missed, and heard his off bail drop off its perch.

Once again, it was the length that did Cummins. It drew him forward and still left him a long way from the pitch of the ball. The same length brought Jadeja his fifth wicket as well; extra bounce inducing Nathan Lyon to pop a catch to silly point.

Jadeja ended the innings with figures of 5 for 124 in 49.3 overs. The other Indian bowlers finished with combined figures of 4 for 307 in 88 overs.

Batting first in India, Australia have posted nine 400-plus first-innings totals including this one. They've done it six times before this in this millennium, and of those six matches, they've won one, drawn one, and lost four times.

Australia's first-innings totals in those four matches were 445, 428, 478 and 408. In Ranchi, they made a total within that range - 451. Without Jadeja plugging away on that perfect length, they might have made a whole lot more.