Knight finds right turn

Knight finds right turn

Ravindra Jadeja has blossomed as a potent left-arm spinner, giving India more options in bowling

Knight finds right turn

He was first criticised, then ridiculed and now adored. He is only 24 but perhaps no cricketer has been subjected to such vilification. When the spectators, however, gave a huge roar of appreciation as he walked out to bat against South Africa in Cardiff in the Champions Trophy opener, it indicated how far the Saurashtra player has come off. From being the butt of several jokes to darling of the crowd, Ravindra Jadeja’s has been a fascinating story.

Jadeja’s career can be divided into two halves -- one between his debut in February 2009 and December 2010 when he was dropped from the squad and the other from his comeback in September 2011 at The Oval to the present. The all-rounder was summoned to join the Indian squad as a replacement for the injury-hit squad in England in 2011 and he responded to the call with his career best one-day knock of 78, less than 24 hours after landing in London.            

Since that match, Jadeja has made a steady progress as an all-rounder but it’s his bowling that has seen significant improvement. In 35 matches between his debut and exclusion, the left-hander had scored 535 runs and taken 29 wickets at an average of 43.

 However, in 34 matches after his recall, he has accumulated 540 runs but in the same period has added 51 wickets at an impressive average of just over 25.

His handy knocks at the lower-middle order to go with his accurate left-arm spin have lent a fine balance to the side that has been obvious in the ODI series against England and Pakistan at home and now in the ongoing Champions Trophy. In the only match he has got to bat against South Africa, Jadeja struck an unbeaten 28-ball 47 to help India to a daunting total and has grabbed 10 wickets, including his maiden five-wicket haul in one-dayers against the West Indies. It’s a mere coincidence that both his highest knock and best bowling figures have come at The Oval.      

His brilliant fielding skills to go with his fast-improving abilities with bat and ball have added new dimension to India’s Champions Trophy squad which has remained unbeaten in the tournament en route to final. It’s apparent that Jadeja is as comfortable speaking in English as an Indian pacer would be bowling on a batting beauty back home. However, he hasn’t been out of place bowling in English conditions. It’s one thing to bag wickets in India, where pitches are generally kind to spinners, and quite another to manage the same outside the sub-continent.

There have been several conspiracy theories floating around MS Dhoni’s strong backing for Jadeja but going by the performance, it’s hard to point a finger of suspicion towards the Indian skipper. “I can say that he has a very good cricketing brain,” noted Jadeja of Dhoni. “He can read a person’s cricket, I believe, very well. That's why he backs me all the time in batting and bowling.”

Jadeja knows he is not a big turner of the ball and his strength lies in quick assessment of the conditions. By his own admission, he has learnt to keep things simple unlike in the past when he complicated things by ‘thinking too much.’    
"In the past, whatever I used to plan I could not translate them into performances,” Jadeja pointed out. “I used to think that I would bowl this way against this batsman or bat in a particular fashion against that bowler. I used to make all those plans earlier. But now I do not think too much about what will happen or what will not. I just try and focus on the pitch, the conditions and the match situation,” he explained.

Nothing more illustrates his growing maturity than his bowling. He doesn’t try too many variations, maintains a tidy wicket-to-wicket line, appropriate length and waits for the batsmen to commit mistakes. Jadeja’s faster delivery, which he darts in as a surprise element, has fetched him a number of wickets. 

“What we need to see is in international cricket all the cricketers don't really start brilliantly,” Dhoni said while talking about Jadeja’s growth. “What happens is the more time you spend and the more games you play, you get more and more confident about what really your strengths are and what needs to be done,” Dhoni reasoned. “I think that's what he has figured out. The good thing with him is he's a bowler who's very consistent with his line and length, doesn't vary his stuff a lot; he keeps it in the same areas, watches the batsman, if he's stepping out or something, he throws it out.
Apart from that, he's someone who has been very consistent with his line and length, and that's what is helping him,” he offered.

Before the start of the Champions Trophy, Dhoni was hoping Jadeja to come good in conditions that aren’t quite sub-continental in nature and the Jharkhandi would be more than happy that his trust in the southpaw wasn’t a misplaced one.