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Jadeja, the batter - mundane but magnificent

When did Ravindra Jadeja get so good with the bat? You may not have noticed, but it has been a while

At some point around 2018 or thereabouts, commentators began to notice that Ravindra Jadeja had been contributing consistently with the bat "over the last couple of years", or "over the last two-three years". All these couples of years later, they often still use the same words when talking about him.
Here's the thing. Jadeja has averaged over 35 with the bat in eight of the last nine years - including the one we're in - and over 40 in four of them. Since the start of 2016, he's scored 2532 runs at an average of 42.91. Of the batters who have scored at least 2000 runs in this period, Jadeja has a better average than: Angelo Mathews, Cheteshwar Pujara, Azhar Ali, David Warner, Tom Latham, Alastair Cook, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Hashim Amla, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes…
We could go on, but let's stop at Stokes, because, well, you know why. Stokes, in this period, averages 38.47. He also, of course, has 11 hundreds in this period to Jadeja's four. There's a reason why you might assume Stokes is the better batter of the two when you debate who the world's best allrounder is.
There's also the matter of Jadeja's unusually high proportion of not-outs: 19 in 78 innings, nearly one in every four. Compare that to Pujara's six in 120 innings, or Stokes' seven in 145.
It's true that Jadeja's batting record - particularly from 2016 to 2019, when India ran up a lot of massive totals on flat home pitches - is slightly inflated by how many runs he's scored in declaration innings. But he's also played match-turning innings on difficult home pitches, averaged over 40 in Australia, and shown the soundness of his defence against swing and seam in England, not least during his 104 at Edgbaston in 2022, when he put on 222 with Rishabh Pant after they came together at 98 for 5.
Basically, he's been bloody good for a long time.
But when you watch Jadeja bat, you can kind of see why commentators continue to do the "last couple of years" thing. It may be because his batting is a little, well, unmemorable, in the sense that it's a little lacking in idiosyncrasy, in shots he plays in a manner that's his alone, and in stylistic flourishes and unorthodoxies. You wouldn't call him attractive to watch, but you wouldn't call him unattractive either.
Last week, he walked in at 33 for 3 on his home ground and scored 112. By the end of it, what stuck in the collective memory - judging by discussions in traditional and social media - was his role in running Sarfaraz Khan out in his debut innings, and the nature and timing of his own dismissal, a chipped caught-and-bowled off Joe Root early on day two.
It was, to be fair, that kind of innings. Watching it, you may have found yourself thinking thoughts such as, "Wait, he's on 31? How did he get here?"
You may even have made a comparison with R Ashwin, the Siamese twin Jadeja is entirely unlike. Even in his briefest stays at the crease, Ashwin can play shots that leave a lasting impression: a back-foot drive off Josh Hazlewood in Bengaluru, for instance, the only scoring shot in an innings of 4.
It took until he was in his 60s for Jadeja to play a truly Jadeja shot: something that made you go, ah, yes, I've seen him do that before, many times.
It was off a short ball from Root, to which he rocked so far back that you feared he'd trample the stumps. From that position, with upper body leaning further back, he played more a shovel than a pull, hitting under the ball rather than across it, launching it over the midwicket boundary. Not immediately pleasing to the eye, but not unpleasing either, with a robust, utilitarian charm. A shot much like the cricketer who played it.
The highlights reel of his Rajkot innings is utterly unremarkable because it's full of competently executed attacking shots off less-than-good bowling. But it shows you that he's not attempted to drive balls on the up or sweep them from the line of the stumps, and that he's survived enough of the good balls to be able to be on strike against the not-so-good ones
On Thursday, the eve of the fourth Test in Ranchi, India batting coach Vikram Rathour gave this insight into Jadeja the batter.
"Lately, I think what he's doing really well is - that has been his strength in bowling as well, that's the kind of character he has - he keeps everything very simple," he said. "There is no complication. He is not overthinking, he is not overanalysing anything. He just does what the team requires at that stage, and that goes for his bowling and batting both. That's the great asset that he has - keeping it really simple and executing his plans."
It was the kind of press-conference reply that may have initially disappointed the questioner - come on, you're the batting coach; give us something about his technique and gameplans! - before the realisation dawned that this was, pretty much, the heart of it.
Jadeja keeps things simple. There's probably no shot in the book that he's among the best in the world at executing, and many others have tighter defences. But he does many things well enough to be very good at them at Test level, and he knows his own game better than most.
But perhaps the thing most viewers underestimate about Jadeja is how much natural talent he possesses. The simplicity of his methods can give you the illusion of a limited player, but one look at his record should tell you he's no such thing. Particularly with the ball. There have always been accurate left-arm spinners who've bowled quick and attacked the stumps; there have always been left-arm spinners who've given the ball a rip; there have always been left-arm spinners who have varied their pace and used the crease cleverly. Jadeja does everything.
This is why there was an air of inevitability about his fourth-innings five-for in Rajkot. The areas he was hitting, ball after ball, and the amount of help he was able to extract from them, left England's batters little choice but to succumb. Why did Ollie Pope try to cut when the cut really wasn't on? Why did Jonny Bairstow and Root try to sweep when the sweep really wasn't on? Jadeja was giving them neither the confidence that they could survive him by defending nor any balls they could score off with relative safety. So they simply had to take those chances.
Jadeja isn't quite as good with the bat, relative to his peers, as he is with the ball, but he brings to his batting the same sense of naturalness - has he ever tinkered with his stance? - the same adherence to clear, simple plans, and the same genius for playing the percentages. The highlights reel of his Rajkot innings is utterly unremarkable because it's full of competently executed attacking shots off less-than-good bowling. But it shows you that he's not attempted to drive balls on the up or sweep them from the line of the stumps, and that he's survived enough of the good balls to be able to be on strike against the not-so-good ones.
Since September 2018 - when he scored an unbeaten 86 at The Oval that showed him how good he could be, even away from home, if he trusted his defence - he's gone past the 100-ball mark 15 times in 49 innings. Nearly once every three innings, which is remarkable when you factor in his bowling workload.
There's a ceiling to what Jadeja can do with the bat, of course, and he probably won't play a lot of high-impact, Stokes-like innings against top attacks that don't give batters clear-cut scoring opportunities. But this is where the comparisons stop making sense because these are two very different types of allrounder. Jadeja is one of the greats of his type, and he's been this good for a long, long time.
Much longer than a couple of years.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo