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Three-dimensional Ravindra Jadeja covers for India's absentees

His all-round ability with the ball, bat and on the field has proven invaluable throughout the series

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Ravindra Jadeja replaced Virat Kohli in this Indian XI. When it was done, it seemed - and still does - a move from a side that knew its attack was thin and was picking players to cover too many bases. India were hedging their bets a bit by replacing a specialist batsman and a pure wicketkeeper with a bowler who could bat and a wicketkeeper in Rishabh Pant who could bat too.
While it can be called hedging the bets, there probably wasn't an option available to India at that time. They had lost Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, and would not want in their attack a debutant seamer and Umesh Yadav, who is not renowned for his control. They needed some bowling cover so they showed they had the courage to not reinforce the batting in a traditional way after the 36 all out in Adelaide.
It looked a little like England on tours of Asia, where their frontline spinners aren't incrementally that good over the bits-and-pieces spinners to forego their batting. This was a different case, though. This was more like England playing Chris Woakes in place of a specialist batsman in Asia, which they rarely do.
Six days of Test cricket later, Jadeja has scored a crucial half-century at the MCG, taken seven wickets including a four-for at the SCG at an average of 15, taken an exceptional catch to start an Australia collapse in Melbourne and also run Steven Smith out when he finally got back in the runs. Even though Jadeja has not bowled as much as the first-choice spinner R Ashwin, he has been in the game almost all the time. The impact that Jadeja has had almost makes you want to reassess the "hedge" category initially assigned to his selection.
The big difference between someone like Woakes and Jadeja, though, is the vast improvement in Jadeja's batting. He is likelier to score runs against fast bowlers than Woakes is against spinners. Jadeja is not quite a No. 5 batsman, but has begun to push from the Woakes category towards the Ben Stokes one.
Since the start of 2016, only Quinton de Kock averages more than Jadeja's 43.92 batting at No. 7 or lower. In the six Tests he has played outside Asia and the West Indies, he has averaged 45.16. Granted that Cheteshwar Pujara bats in tough periods, but since the start of 2018 Jadeja has more runs per innings than even Pujara. The big difference now is that he trusts his game and doesn't back away and hit as he used to at the start of his career.
At the press conference after day two in Sydney, Jadeja was asked if this change in approach to batting over the last 18 months or so meant he had started to think of himself as a genuine allrounder. "Not just the last 12-18 months," Jadeja said. "Long before that - and in all three formats - I have to perform both in batting and bowling department. Since the day I have started playing, that has been my role. But it is all about getting the opportunity; whenever I have got the opportunity to score runs or take wickets, I have done that. Especially when I score runs outside India, it gets talked about more. But, according to me, I have always considered myself an allrounder."
The team management has recognised it and started to give him more responsibility. "The higher I bat, the more responsibility I take," Jadeja said. "Batting with a batsman, you talk to them, [and] get the confidence. And most importantly, I have time to play a proper innings. If I can initially get that start with a batsman, I can play in my flow. The more I bat higher up, the better it is."
Still, he was batting at No. 7, which meant India were replacing a batsman with someone who was a bowler first, someone who wouldn't ideally be playing, especially with another spinner in the XI, in Melbourne of all places. The last time two spinners played in a Test XI in Melbourne was when India went in with both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in 2007-08. The idea behind that selection was for India to choose their four best bowlers no matter the conditions.
Ashwin averages 25.20 and Jadeja 24.50, but so good have India's three quicks been that it has rarely been the case where they consider both of them to be along the four best bowlers for conditions outside Asia and the West Indies. Even when they have played two spinners in Tests outside Asia and the West Indies under this team management, the second spinner has been Kuldeep Yadav, who brings in the wristspin variety.
The real merit in this selection of Jadeja has been that not playing both Ashwin and Jadeja together has been a perfectly reasonable thought process. To go against that is a bold move, one that the conditions demanded. Now it was up to Jadeja to vindicate that trust.
Jadeja is a bowler who is slightly unfortunate to have operated in the times of Ashwin. With the more apparent guile of Ashwin, Jadeja's bowing can tend to go unnoticed. His numbers are not too far behind either; in fact, his average is better. Jadeja has only one fewer Player-of-the-Match award than Ashwin, although the senior spinner has more series awards. Only ten Indians have won more Player-of-the-Match awards than Jadeja's six. No one has a better rate than his: one every six Tests or so.
It was perhaps fair that he enjoyed some luck on the crucial second day of the Sydney Test, which Australia started at 166 for 2 with the threat of batting India out of the game. There will be days when Jadeja will bowl much better than he did on this day and not end up with a wicket. Here he got four despite being cut away for four often and conceding an un-Jadeja-like 3.44 an over. This is perhaps a reward for someone who always stays in the game and keeps bowling at the wickets all the time.
And in the game Jadeja well and truly was when he ran in about 25 yards for a one-handed pick-up and direct hit from about 35 yards to hit the only stump visible to him to run Smith out. He rated that higher than the wickets he took. Thanks to the extra dimension Jadeja's inclusion has added, India too are in the game and the series.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo