Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo
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Saurashtra's nets session on Monday gave a clear picture of Ravindra Jadeja's determination to get back on the field. In a practice session that spanned over three hours and 20 minutes, Jadeja was one of only two players to have an extended hit at the nets. This was after he was done with his stretching and fielding drills at the MA Chidambaram Stadium and then a round of batting and bowling at the nets. In between, he was also seen giving pep talks, initially with the team in a huddle and then with individual players.
Jadeja is returning to competitive cricket after a gap of nearly five months after injuring his knee during the Asia Cup last September and is set to lead Saurashtra in their last group game in the Ranji Trophy, with Cheteshwar Pujara and regular captain Jaydev Unadkat rested.
Both are understood to have been advised rest by the BCCI ahead of the Test series against Australia, which begins in Nagpur on February 9. Both players are part of the India squad for the first two Tests of the four-match series. Both Pujara and Unadkat, as well as Jadeja, will be part of India's preparatory camp in Nagpur starting February 2.
Jadeja's inclusion in the 17-man squad is subject to proving his match fitness. He could not have asked for a better place for his competitive return than his home in the IPL, Chennai, where Saurashtra will take on Tamil Nadu starting Tuesday.
Given that the last time he played a first-class game was the fifth Test against England in Birmingham last July, Jadeja is looking to get game-time under his belt before joining the India camp.
"I'm almost ready," he said with a wide smile when asked about his fitness. "I was at the NCA [National Cricket Academy] for 20 days, doing batting and bowling, but the match scenario is different. I wanted to play one game before the Australia series, that's why I am here. Hopefully, I will be fully recovered to play the first Test."
As of Monday, he wasn't feeling any discomfort in his knee, but he indicated he wouldn't be taking on a full bowling workload in the match against Tamil Nadu.
"After five months, if you play a competitive game, you don't feel confident initially," he said. "But as you progress, you will get better and better.
"Injuries are part of the sport. In any sport, if you get injured, you have to start from scratch. Same thing in cricket. I was out of action for five months, so again I have to build my fitness first and then slowly, once I get fit and once I regain my confidence, then definitely I will work on my skills and get better day by day."
While batting in the nets, Jadeja copped a blow to the arm from the side-arm thrower and briefly looked discomfited. However, he continued to bat before coming back to bowl.
Speaking about the setbacks he has faced on the road to his comeback from injury, he said: "You feel bad, nobody wants to get injured in the middle of your big season.
"It's a part of the game. You have to keep that in mind, and you have to prepare for it. Can't do anything. There is no guarantee that nobody would get injured while playing cricket. It's nice now, coming good. Day by day, I am getting that confidence.
"I will go slowly [when I'm bowling]. Have to see how my leg is feeling and then I will see."
During his time away from cricket, Jadeja was busy campaigning for his wife in the Gujarat assembly elections. He said he mostly switched off from cricket during this period.
"Fortunately, I was busy with some other things," he said. "My full focus was there. It helped me a lot. I was also not thinking too much about cricket. Those initial three months after I got injured and got done with my surgery, I was busy with some election things. That helped me a lot. I wasn't really watching [India] matches. But a few games I did see."
But at the moment, he is "very excited, looking forward to this game. Hopefully, it comes good as a team and as an individual."