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Sir Ravi J: The quality No. 7 memelords never thought he could be

The allrounder has evolved into a consistent scorer of Test runs, a run-out specialist, and is possibly the second-best spinner in the format

Jarrod Kimber
Jarrod Kimber
07-Aug-2021
People made fun of Ravindra Jadeja for making three first-class triple hundreds. It's not easy to make one and he got a few; that only intensified the jokes. They called him Sir Ravi J, mockingly. It's easy to dismiss those triples (Kerry O'Keefing is the technical term) as the teams he played against weren't always strong. Still, there are some interesting bits to those innings.
Before the triples there was a double. In that match, only one other batter scored over 80 runs, and that guy turned out pretty handy.
His second triple century was almost 60% of his team's total, and no one else made a hundred, even though it was a two-innings game.
The 331 against Railways was out of a total of 576 runs and, in Murali Kartik and Sanjay Bangar, it came against a pair with nearly 1000 first-class wickets between them. Railways made just four more runs than he did in their first innings.
In his first 36 matches for Saurashtra, he made six centuries, which is an okay conversion rate for a player with a second skill, but four of those were 232 or higher.
After those seasons, as you would expect given that he could bowl, he didn't stay with Saurashtra and ended up with India. And while he never became the triple-century Goliath, he was a top-quality international bat for the position he played from 2013 to 2017.
Jadeja is the second-best spinner called Ravi (incorrectly in R Ashwin's case) in his team. Jadeja is playing like a build-your-own computer character, but Ashwin is a supervillain
It's just that if you have built up this narrative of huge scores, averaging 29 in Tests (until the end of 2017) didn't quite cut it. But it's quality for a guy who batted eight or below more times than he didn't. And 34 in ODIs with a strike rate of 92 batting at seven.
These may not sound like inspiring numbers, but those are outstanding records for where he batted. No. 8s in Tests averaged 23 with the bat for this era, so he was well above normal. In ODIs, No. 7s score at the same rate as Jadeja, but he was averaging eight runs more.
But, he was being compared to himself, and in India, where the only averages that are respected are the over-50 kind, he wasn't popping.
This, the IPL suspension, the moustache, the celebrations, the underserved (to some) arrogance, and the fact it seemed like MS Dhoni was operating him by remote control all meant that Jadeja was seen as a comedic figure, instead of the incredible player he is. He had a few runs, but more memes.
But things have changed. Many like to look back at the Sanjay Manjrekar bits-and-pieces remarks as the point his career turned. Before it he averaged 31 across all forms of cricket with the bat, and after it has been 54. In truth, though, his form with the bat in Tests had already turned, so that theory doesn't hold up.
In fact, just as the global batting averages were about to drop, Jadeja took an enormous leap.
Let me put it this way, when the global batting mark was a normal 31.76 from 2013 to 2017, Jadeja averaged 29.40. Since then a global pace-bowling pandemic has dropped the averages down to 28.08, and he has upped his average to 50.88.
No one around the world can make a run right now, and a No. 7 everyone used to laugh at is averaging 50.
It's such a good record some fans want him batting up the order. Yet as good as he has been, he feels more like a No. 7 doing well rather than a top-order player. A bit like Daniel Vettori; his batting had a homespun nature to it, a by-any-means necessary style. And if you throw them up the order, with newer balls, and more pressure to build long innings, you can't guarantee success.
Vettori averaged 39 with the bat at No. 8, and when he went up the order to No. 6 and 7, he was just under 30. So far Jadeja averages 31 at No. 7. Most of his runs come at No. 8 (a bit low) or No. 9 (that's some batting order). But from eight innings at No. 6, he's managed three fifties.
Vettori struggled up the order because while he was good at making runs, he had never learned how to build an innings like a batter. He just hung around incredibly well. Jadeja certainly had the construction skills as a young man, even if he's only managed one hundred (exactly 100, in fact) in Tests.
But batting up the order is different to what he's been doing. And there's no reason for him to be promoted. While Rishabh Pant is batting at No. 6, Jadeja at seven unlocks what allrounders should; the ability to have seven batters and five bowlers. That's the dream.
And this has got the feel of a wonderful dream.
If you look at Jadeja's figures since the start of 2018 in Tests, he looks like the most valuable player on paper. India loses nothing with the bat. In fact, he's miles ahead of most top-order players in terms of average. He's going at 26 with the ball; not quite the silly numbers of some seamers going around, though he could have surely lowered that had he bowled against England at home this year.
Put it this way: if you were drafting players to put in your Test team right now, and you could pick anyone, who would you take before him? Because he bowls spin, you can use him far more with the ball than Ben Stokes, and while he's not in that class as a batter, he's making more consistent runs. Jason Holder has been incredible with the ball and played some strong innings at home. Still, Jadeja probably has him beat and can bat higher right now. What of the specialists? Well, Jadeja has the fifth-best batting average (for a minimum 750 runs scored) and the 20th-best bowling average (with a minimum of 50 wickets) in this time. And he's a run-out specialist with his arm.
You may not still draft Jadeja at No. 1, but as far as allrounders go, the only one better in the world than him right now is Shohei Ohtani.
It's hard to get your head around all this because it is possible Jadeja is the second-best spinner in Tests, and also the second-best spinner called Ravi (incorrectly in R Ashwin's case) in his team. Jadeja is playing like a build-your-own computer character, but Ashwin is a supervillain.
Go to YouTube any day ending with 'Y' and some cricket nerd has made a new video about how Ashwin moved his pinky finger a millimetre and has thus changed reality as we know it. And there is a more prosaic wind-up toy nature to how Jadeja bowls. According to Cricviz, he doesn't vary his pace much at all compared to high-class spinners. That means that Ashwin is the thinking cricketer we all wish we could be, and Jadeja is the bowling automaton who delivers through physical gifts.
But, then, what of his batting? Where he went from a handy lower-order player who chips in, into a constant scorer of Test runs? Right now he looks like a player who can bat for any situation that's thrown at him lower down the order. He's worked on his game, tightened what was more of a wild-axe swing, taken batting up the order more seriously, and is now making regular runs.
Actually, as much as anything, Jadeja has worked out how not to be dismissed. Batting at seven is a pretty simple job if you can bat. There are more not outs, and the new ball is a long distance from you. Jadeja has five not outs in 23 innings at No. 7. But he's had four not outs batting at six as well. No matter where he enters, he's got a huge amount of red ink. This isn't just outlasting a shambolic tail. This is him being harder to dig out than an Alabama tick. This is Imran Khan of the 80s or late-career Vettori.
It is only 23 innings, but almost a third of his career knocks. And that is one of the weirdest things, that he's clearly close to the most complete cricketer in the world, and perhaps the most valuable. But he's 32, and because of circumstances, he's only played 53 Tests.
On Friday, his dismissal was the only surprising thing. He negated England's swinging ball, built a partnership with KL Rahul, and then squeezed runs out of the tail with the sort of exciting batting he showed when he was younger.
It will go down as another fifty, a handy knock but it was more than that. His innings was the difference between India having a lead and not. Sometimes a fifty is worth more than 300.
If you're still making jokes about Ravi Jadeja's batting, then you're just not paying attention. Arise, Sir Ravi J, the quality No. 7.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber