Earlier it was only about the No. 4 spot, now suddenly it is about fitting three openers in the XI and if Virat Kohli should go back to his No. 3 position. The accommodation of an extra batsman at the top has resulted in a logjam of sorts in the middle and lower order which earlier seemed settled, at least when Hardik Pandya was around. Kedar Jadhav was a stable No. 6, and when he was left out of the series opener in Mumbai, India lost some batting experience just above the tail and took a risk of playing only five bowlers at Wankhede Stadium. That they didn't need a sixth bowler in the end was a different matter.
The next two grounds in the three-match series are Rajkot and Bengaluru, and given the short boundaries, those pitches could easily turn out to be much flatter than what we saw in Mumbai on Monday. That should, ideally, make India also pick a part-time bowling option in their XI, apart from the usual five bowlers, given that they are 1-0 down in a three-match series and failed to pick a single wicket in the first ODI. That brings Jadhav back in the picture.
Jadhav is currently the only sixth-bowling option in the India squad but he wasn't dropped from the XI on form, which means he's always a part of the conversation when a spot opens up due to team combinations, as it has now with Rishabh Pant's unavailability. The bowling option Jadhav offers is one of the other reasons he's still part of India's plans. From a long-term point of view though, the catch is that he will be nearly 38 at the time of the next 50-over World Cup, in 2023, and since his fitness levels are not MS Dhoni-like, the selectors and team management might want to hone someone like Manish Pandey for the finisher's role over the next three years.
When batting coach Vikram Rathour was asked about Jadhav before the start of the ongoing series, he said Jadhav's "long-term future is for the selectors to decide", while adding that he provided an extra bowling option when someone was having an off day. "He hasn't been used because our main fast bowlers have done well," Rathour had said on Sunday.
That makes Jadhav's place a little more secure in the current squad. But what happens once Hardik Pandya returns, who even showed he is not far from international cricket by bowling in the India nets on the day before the first ODI? Once fit, Pandya could be slotted at No. 6, Ravindra Jadeja at No. 7 and with four proper bowling options to follow. The only problem India will be left with will be of filling five positions with these six names: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and Pant.
One extra batsman for the line-up, Pandey, also on the bench and six bowling options in the XI. Will that mean the end for Jadhav? If the answer to that is yes, whenever it happens, it could lead to his ouster. When India's first squad was picked after the World Cup last year for the ODIs in the West Indies, chief selector MSK Prasad was asked what the future was for Jadhav. Prasad had said, "Kedar has not done anything wrong for his non-selection, first of all. So we considered him and we are also getting back-ups ready."
And Jadhav has done no wrong in the limited opportunities he got after the World Cup either. In five innings since then, he has scored runs at 123.45 with 10 fours and two sixes at the end of the innings, stayed unbeaten in two (19* off 12 and 16* off 10), and not wasted balls when India wanted quick runs. He has delivered what was asked while batting, and he can't be faulted for not being asked to bowl when the frontline bowlers are doing their job. Even when he was not playing for India, he went back to domestic cricket and set up India B's Deodhar Trophy title win with an 86 off 94 at No. 5.
Indian cricket, however, is not unfamiliar with having to leave out players purely because of stiff competition for spots. Be it the abundance of batsmen for several decades in domestic cricket or the extra fast bowling options even in the current times: once Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar recover, someone will have to be left out because Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini are already playing.
For now, Jadhav's next job at hand will be to focus on his next match, which could very well be on Friday. If he doesn't do well in whatever opportunities he gets from here, he knows time will run out for him quicker than he wants.