On the eve of the limited-overs series opener against West Indies in Hyderabad, India captain Virat Kohli was asked what factors might separate the wristspinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal from the fingerspinners Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar. Kohli weighed up various options, including playing both the wristspinners together especially on large grounds, and then explained that it was Jadeja's batting that lent more depth to the side.
"We feel he's [Jadeja's] batting really well. He's probably in the best batting form of his life," Kohli had said of Jadeja. "With the ball, he's a proper fingerspinner and [he's] very accurate as well. In the field we don't have any doubts on him. I think this is his best phase as an allrounder and we want to maximise that."
After having played that innings against New Zealand in the dramatic World Cup semi-final earlier this year, Jadeja showed his value to India's limited-overs set-up once again, with a smash-and-grab 39 not out off 31 balls that denied a resilient West Indies team in the ODI series decider in Cuttack on Sunday.
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For once, Kohli left the job unfinished in a chase, and dragged Keemo Paul on for 85 off 81 balls, with India still needing 30 off 23 balls with four wickets in hand. Plus, in the absence of the injured Deepak Chahar, India's tail appeared longer than usual.
Just before Kohli had dragged himself off the field, he gesticulated to Jadeja that he wanted the allrounder to take care of the unfinished business.
Jadeja calmly finished it off, with eight balls to spare, and backed up the comments his captain had made in the lead-up to the limited-overs series.
India's chase of 316 had followed a familiar script at the start, with the top three prospering. However, no batsman pressed on to make a hundred this time and West Indies flipped the script by exposing India's lower order. Jadeja, however, rallied with No. 8 Shardul Thakur in an unbroken 30-run partnership off a mere 15 balls to snatch the series for India.
More than three years ago, in a steep chase against Australia in an ODI in Canberra, Jadeja had dawdled to 24 not out off 27 balls - an innings that lacked clarity. Jadeja didn't suss out the situation well enough then and never really communicated with the lower order.
Jadeja has always been an attractive package as an allrounder: hitting big, squeezing the opposition with his left-arm darts and whipping up magic with his fielding. He has now become a more precious commodity after adding smarts to his game. Some of those smarts were central to India wrapping up the series at the Barabati Stadium.
Jadeja knew that the ball was skidding off a dew-slicked pitch later in the evening, and simply focussed on timing the ball as opposed to muscling it. When Jason Holder attacked his body with a chest-high short ball in the 45th over, Jadeja smartly rode the bounce and pulled it to the midwicket boundary, where there was no protection. Then, in the next over, when left-arm seamer Sheldon Cottrell missed his length, Jadeja shelved the leg-side slog and instead drove it through the line.
When left-arm fingerspinner Khary Pierre was recalled into the attack in the 43rd over, Jadeja took just a single of two balls, letting Kohli pick off a brace of fours at the other end in the same over.
Once Kohli exited, Jadeja took centerstage and communicated with Thakur, advising him to time the ball like he had been doing. Thakur delightfully drove the first ball he faced on the up through extra-cover, and progressed to an unbeaten 17 off six balls.
"It was a very crucial innings [that] I played," Jadeja said at the post-match press conference. "It was a decider game today, so when I went to bat, I was just looking to play with Virat. [The] wicket was so good to bat on, and you could easily get the singles away. And then when you look to hit hard later on, you know by then that the wicket is so good and you only need to play according to the ball.
"After Virat got out, I kept telling myself that I need to play till the last ball. When Shardul came in, I also spoke to Shardul that the wicket was so good and you know you can just play according to the ball. And the ball was coming [on] so nicely. So, me and Shardul also were thinking the same thing like me and Virat were thinking. We played according to merit and we finished six or seven balls earlier. That was the plan."
Jadeja coolly executed that plan and then coolly fronted up to the press, saying: "I don't need to prove [anything to] anybody else in the world. I need to prove to myself." The night eventually ended with Jadeja coolly obliging fans with selfies.