Jadeja, Pathan face off

Saurashtra spinner has edge in battle for number seven spot

Irfan Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja offer the most compelling story of contrasts in this Indian squad.

Battle royale: Irfan Pathan. file photo

Pathan has played just one ODI for India since March 2009, but the rush here for his autograph will make you think that the Baroda man has just produced a remarkable match-winning effort. Jadeja spurred India to a series-levelling win in the T20 series in Sydney, yet the Saurashtra lad can walk through the streets of Australia without attracting attention.

So, are they just travellers on different routes? Not quite, as a searing battle for the vital No 7 position or the bowling all-rounder’s slot will gain momentum between them in the coming days.

Of course, Jadeja has gained a few paces since his return to the Indian fold during the tour of England, where he played a couple of quality knocks in the one-dayers. Since his return in that series, he has made 263 runs in 15 matches at 32.87, and taken 25 wickets at 25.48.

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni spoke of Jadeja’s current standing as the number one candidate for the pressure slot. “Jadeja really bowled well in the match against Sri Lanka. More importantly, he brings the team combination a lot of flexibility.

He has done well since rejoining the team during the England tour last year. He’s a very useful fielder as well. And now he seems to be getting back the rhythm in his left-arm spin,” Dhoni said.     

The flexibility Dhoni spoke about is an essential quality for a player who comes in at number seven. At times, he will be asked to knuckle down and rescue the team in a tight situation, and Jadeja has shown more than once in the recent past that he can handle that job, the latest instance being his match-turning unbeaten 53-run alliance with R Ashwin at the WACA on Wednesday.  

The southpaw scored only 24, but those runs were invaluable considering the tight situation India were in. The number seven batsman can also be asked to throw his bat around in the slog overs to further strengthen his team’s position, and Jadeja did that on a few times in home one-dayers against England and the West Indies.

Jadeja is also a canny left-arm spinner, who can bowl a tight line to keep batsmen silent like he did at the WACA against the Lankans, and also gives his skipper an attacking option on helpful pitches.

On a surface that offers some assistance, Jadeja, who was the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy a few seasons back, can be more than a handful, and his subtle variations in speed, flight and angle put the English batsmen through the wringer in the home one-day series that the visitors lost 0-5.

Those records and performances show that Jadeja is the frontrunner at this point of time in the chase to seal a position that will have utmost importance in the next three years or so.

But Jadeja can’t rest on his recent laurels or in the comfort of the backing of the team management for Pathan is snapping at his heels. The younger Pathan too can fit into this role quite nicely, if he can maintain his fitness and sharpness in bowling that he showed during the last domestic season, and in the fifth one-dayer against the West Indies at Chennai where he picked up three wickets during his return to international cricket.

The selectors will certainly keep a close watch on his outings since India’s away tour leg will start from the end of 2013 with a trip to South Africa, culminating in the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Apart from the Antipodean nations and South Africa, India will also travel to England, places that suit Pathan’s brand of bowling – pitching it up and procuring swing.

Since Jadeja is the clear first pick of the captain, Pathan will get only minimal chances to stake his claim. It’s imperative for Pathan to keep the fire burning, and make each opportunity count. Dhoni made it clear. “As of now, we don’t have a pace bowling all-rounder. Irfan, of course, comes into picture and we would like to give him some chances, and hopefully, he will fire as he used to in the past.”

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