Ravindra Jadeja trudged off The Oval with head bowed, having done everything possible to try and secure India's maiden win on this tour of England. He led them back from the depths of 58 for 5 with a half-century, took two wickets at critical moments during England's chase, and threw himself in the field to choke the flow of runs. He did all this despite landing at Heathrow only at 7.30 am on the eve of the third ODI.
When Manoj Tiwary played the second match at the Rose Bowl hours after arriving in England, Jadeja was in Mumbai, waiting for his UK visa to arrive. Tiwary's call-up as a replacement for Rohit Sharma had been announced on September 4, while Jadeja had been named as Gautam Gambhir's replacement on August 31. Yet, Jadeja had to wait nearly a week in frustration before he could join the squad.
Jadeja, however, has already had to face greater tests in his fledgling international career. At 22, he is part of the wave of young cricketers whose fortunes have been shaped by the IPL. Soon after being part of India's Under-19 World Cup triumph in 2008, Jadeja played a significant part in Rajasthan Royals' victory in the inaugural IPL. His success coincided with the Indian selectors' and captain MS Dhoni's push for youth in the Twenty20 and one-day squads.
Jadeja was a fit for the second allrounder's role, after Yuvraj Singh, but failed to secure his place despite several opportunities. His inconsistent batting hurt his cause at a time when Yusuf Pathan's big hitting attracted a lot of attention. Jadeja eventually had to make way.
The BCCI then barred Jadeja from playing the third season of the IPL because he had tried to sign deals with other franchises when his contract with Rajasthan did not allow it. Jadeja admitted his fault and sat on the sidelines. A year later, however, demand for him had not dropped. Kochi Tuskers Kerala paid $900,000 for him and he repaid them with all-round performances, finishing the fourth IPL season as the franchise's second-highest run-scorer.
Jadeja brought all his IPL learning to The Oval today. At 58 for 5, with 31 overs to go, he was up against Graeme Swann, who has phenomenal success against left-hand batsmen. Jadeja paid him respect, playing predominantly on the back foot, a method Rahul Dravid, India's best batsman on the tour, used successfully against the world's leading spinner.
Alastair Cook, the England captain, did not set attacking fields, perhaps assuming Jadeja would try to battle his nerves by doing something rash. Like Suresh Raina had. Jadeja, however, batted with composure. Even when subjected to a short-ball barrage from Stuart Broad, Jadeja stayed in his crease, rode the bounce and scored behind point.
It helped that he had Dhoni with him. They annoyed England's bowlers, Swann in particular, with their swift running between the wickets. They stole singles and took two when other Indian batsmen would have settled for one.
Before he tapped James Anderson delicately to the fine-leg boundary, Jadeja had barely played two scoring shots on the leg side. There were plenty on the off though. With three overs to go, Anderson surprisingly had four fielders deep on the leg side. Jadeja capitalised by lofting twice over the fielder at mid-off for successive boundaries. He added 60 runs with R Ashwin in the last five overs, leading India to a modest total of 234 for 7.
A bigger encouragement for India than Jadeja's batting, though, was his slow left-arm bowling. To arrive on the eve of the match and adapt to English conditions without any overs under his belt was a significant achievement.
"[When] I was batting, Graeme Swann was turning the ball, so I thought if I bowl slow I can also get the turn," Jadeja said after receiving the Man-of-the-Match award. He did bowl slowly but he also gave the ball a hard rip on a pitch that turned more as it got older.
Not having faced an Indian left-arm spinner on this trip, England's batsmen were not at ease. Bowling an off-stump line, Jadeja mixed his orthodox deliveries with arm balls. Craig Kieswetter, who had given England a brisk start, could not read a straight delivery, having been beaten by turning deliveries the previous two balls.
With the penultimate delivery of his final over, Jadeja angled the ball sharply into Tim Bresnan and bowled him, breaking a 60-run partnership for the sixth wicket. England needed 25 from as many deliveries. Jadeja had finished his quota of nine overs and, as he had done with the bat, had brought India back into the contest.
"His bowling was always up to the mark. Maybe it was the batting which was a bit of a concern," Dhoni said about why Jadeja was dropped last year. "He showed improvement from the IPL, where he faced bowlers who bowled close to 140kph, and he was able to play those big shots needed when you bat at No. 7. Overall he looks more complete right now."