Jadeja casts off inhibitions
With the ball, bat and in the field, Ravindra Jadeja is increasingly fitting the bill as India's match-turning allrounder
Both men were climbing down the stairs from the changing room at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff on a sunny Sunday afternoon just over a week ago for the team's first training session in Wales. Then Ravindra Jadeja sneezed. Virat Kohli said "Bless you, mate," impersonating an Australian accent. Jadeja replied, "Thanks, met" in an accent of his own: a mix of his native Gujarati blended with English. It was every bit as unconventional to hear the pair exchange such gestures, as it was to hear their unconventional accents.
It is one of the biggest changes that India has experienced: the courage to say what you want to say without any fear or embarrassment. Kohli and Jadeja are the latest flagbearers of such an attitude. Their belief in themselves outscores every doubt that can invade the mind in the high-pressure environment that is the abode of the international athlete.
That belief has now allowed Jadeja to grow steadily into one of the most dependable players in MS Dhoni's team, especially in the past six months. Virtually every match he has played in, Jadeja has managed to create a positive impression and justify his place in the side, as he increasingly moves closer to becoming the answer to India's long search for a capable allrounder.
Asked after his success in the Australia Test series, where he was the second-highest wicket-taker, to define the type of allrounder he was - bowling or batting - Jadeja left it to the man who posed the question to go work it out.
Jadeja does not fit the bill of the dashing allrounder like Yuvraj Singh did. Yet at the same time, you notice that Jadeja is always in the match, quietly making an impact with a late batting cameo, or a short, tight spell of bowling that can tilt the game in India's favour, or by manning the inner circle like a vigilant sentry.
On Tuesday, he once again read the situation well. He understood that the nature of the pitch was slow. One match, Pakistan against West Indies, had already been played on the surface. Not a man to experiment, Jadeja stuck to his thumb rule of bowling a straight line. Though he said that he focused on bowling slower, Jadeja can dart the ball at a good pace as Johnson Charles experienced when he was trapped lbw with a perfect arm ball. Even if Jadeja is not a big turner of the ball, the ability to vary his pace creates doubts in the opponent's mind.
Charles' aggression had put West Indies in a decent position in the initial Powerplay overs. Jadeja was introduced in the 18th over, with West Indies 92 for 1. His first over was a maiden. By the time he finished his first spell, he had put the match in India's favour: West Indies were 118 for 4 after 26 overs. Jadeja's figures at that point were 5-1-10-3, with four of those runs coming in singles off his fifth over.
"Now I do not think too much, what will happen and what will not. I just try and focus on the kind of pitch, the conditions and the match situation"
With Dhoni playng a fast-paced game, by rotating his bowlers in short spurts ranging from one to five overs, West Indies' batsmen were never comfortable. The overs were getting rolled through quickly while the run rate was stagnating. India were tightening the noose and Jadeja was happy to fasten the knot.
In India's win against South Africa, Jadeja played the role that will become more significant as the team start preparing earnestly for the World Cup in 2015. Coming in with less than ten overs remaining, Jadeja joined Dhoni, himself new at the crease. Dhoni departed with five overs left, leaving the onus on Jadeja. Having played match-turning cameos in the death overs during various IPL matches, Jadeja made sure all the hard work put in by the opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma would not go to waste. He hit 30 of the 41 runs India made after Dhoni's exit, to raise a challenge too strong for South Africa.
Later when AB de Villiers and Robin Peterson had given South Africa a powerful start in the first 15 overs, Dhoni brought Jadeja on to bowl in tandem with R Ashwin. Jadeja matched Ashwin in discipline as South Africa's momentum slowed - his first four overs cost 21 runs and he did not err in line. When he returned in his second, mini spell of one over, in the 30th, he removed the in-form JP Duminy to help India regain the initiative.
In the last year Jadeja has become more bold: in expression, in body language, in batting, in bowling. He does not play with the pressure of a newcomer who feels he has to prove something. He is a thinking cricketer now. The experience and exposure he has gained over the years have instilled the belief in him to take a call.
Jadeja agrees. "I never used to make my game plans in the past," he said. "Whatever I used to think I could not translate my plans into the match. I used to think I would do this against this batsman or play in a particular fashion against this bowler. I used to make those strategies. But now I have stopped doing that. Now I do not think too much, what will happen and what will not. I just try and focus on the kind of pitch, the conditions and the match situation."
This India team has a few courageous players. Young men like Kohli, Dhawan and Jadeja, who are not shy to twirl their moustaches and showcase their performances. Unconventional or otherwise is not their concern.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo