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With dry wit and a lot of mental prep, Jadeja embraces 'real pressure' in dynamic role

On batting at No. 4: "I was preparing myself mentally for it - luckily, I got the runs, and whatever I did, it was crucial"

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Ravindra Jadeja was at his jovial best at Tuesday's optional training session ahead of India's final group game against Hong Kong in Dubai. And when he appeared for the pre-match press conference, he was greeted with a huge cheer in the room.
"Bakra mil gaya kya (Found your sacrificial lamb, have you)?" Jadeja said with a laugh as he settled into his chair. And over the next ten minutes, his answers alternated between funny and insightful.
"Aapka sawaal mere book se baahar hai (your question is out of my syllabus)," he joked when asked whether Rishabh Pant would continue to be benched.
"Aap zyada sochte ho, main itna nahi sochta (you seem to think a lot, I don't think so much)," he quipped when asked about his role of primarily being a bowler in Test cricket, as opposed to being more multi-dimensional in white-ball cricket.
Chuckles turned into full-blown laughter when Jadeja responded to a question on how he dealt with rumours about his sudden injury during the IPL and the possibility of him not being selected for the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup.
"Once I even heard a rumour that I had died; it can't be bigger than that," he responded. "I don't think too much about it. I just focus on my work, try to play well and perform."
Jadeja's answers were quick. He can go through half a dozen questions in the time he takes to bowl an over, which he does faster than perhaps anyone else in the world.
It wasn't all fun and banter, though, as Jadeja elaborated on his new role, especially as a batter.
In India's Asia Cup opener against Pakistan, Jadeja was promoted to No. 4 in the absence of a left-handed batter in the top six.
"If you play for India, there will be pressure always. You need to play with responsibility sometimes. When you get a chance to bat when the team is in trouble and then you have to win it from there, it's challenging"
Ravindra Jadeja
With Pakistan playing a legspinner in Shadab Khan and a left-arm spinner in Mohammad Nawaz, Jadeja was sent up the order to negate the threat of a right-hand batter having to face a ball turning away from him. Jadeja responded with a 29-ball 35 and his partnership with Hardik Pandya helped India win the game with two balls to spare. He revealed that he had been preparing to bat anywhere in the order, and that the decision to move up was something he had expected.
"Definitely, sometimes it happens if a left-arm spinner or legspinner is bowling, it's easier to have a left-hander," Jadeja said. "In the top seven I was the only left-hander. I knew there would be such situations, where they have a left-arm spinner and legspinner so I may have to bat up.
"I was preparing myself mentally for it. Luckily, I got the runs, and whatever I did, it was crucial. I can't say [the same will happen against all teams]. Every opponent has different bowlers, we'll plan from that point of view."
Jadeja rued not finishing the game off but expressed satisfaction at having delivered a key performance in a pressure situation. "If you play for India, there will be pressure always," he said. "You need to play with responsibility sometimes. When you get a chance to bat when the team is in trouble and then you have to win it from there, it's challenging.
"You can sometimes come to bowl in similar situations. If you perform well in such situations, it gives you satisfaction and confidence as a player."
And how would Jadeja bowl to a batter like Jadeja? "If there's someone like that in T20s, I'll look at the areas the batter plays in, what his strong zones are, which end I'm bowling from, and which part of the outfield is bigger."
In 2018, the Asia Cup was Jadeja's launchpad for a comeback after he fell out of favour for close to a year. Four years on, Jadeja and Pandya are key pieces of India's T20I puzzle as they look to win a tournament - the T20 World Cup - they haven't won since 2007.
Jadeja isn't focused on Australia just yet. He's looking to do his best against Hong Kong, and then take the Super 4s on. "One game at a time, one game at a time," he laughed, before walking off sipping ice-cold water.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo