How an internet meme became the answer to India’s search for an all-rounder
Ever since Kapil Dev hung up his boots from international cricket, India's quest for an all-rounder has been nothing but a combination of dreams and disappointment. Year after year, series after series, Indian cricket's search for an all-rounder resulted in frustration.
Post the retirement of the 1983 World Cup winning captain, many all-rounders showed promise but crumbled against pressure. Ajit Agarkar, Sunil Joshi, JP Yadav, Sanjay Bangar, Ajay Jadeja, Joginder Sharma, Irfan Pathan, are few of the players who were once considered India’s most promising all-rounder. Manoj Prabhakar was the closest to being called Kapil’s successor, but after his retirement in 1996, India probably had to wait for another 20 years to find a cricketer who could make both the willow and cherry talk.
The meteoric Rise of Ravindra Jadeja
The left-arm spinner from Gujarat’s cricketing backwaters, Jamnagar, was introduced into the Test match format after the selectors noticed his exceptional performance in limited overs cricket, backed up by his impressive domestic first-class numbers. In the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy, the Rajput boy scored 794 runs, marked by 2 triple centuries, and bagged 24 scalps. That domestic season was a hint, and a hope, that India’s quest for an all-rounder could be over finally.
However, Jadeja’s role in the Indian team, after making his Test debut in the December of 2013 at home against England, had just been that of a supporting bowler – a third or fourth spinner that is. But his performances were good – he took wickets at regular intervals, without leaking too many runs.
In his debut Test series, he took 24 wickets from 4 matches, including dismissing Michael Clarke 5 times in 6 innings. In the preceding Champions Trophy, he ended as the leading wicket taker.
The Indian team had a string of overseas tours in the 2013-14 season - South Africa, New Zealand and England – and that was when Jadeja was used as the team’s premier spinner, because of Ashwin’s dip in form. Though the overseas tours proved a bit challenging for the youngster, his role in controlling the flow of runs was exceptional.
But at the end of 2014, Jadeja suffered a shoulder injury which kept him out of the game for six to seven weeks. In between his Test debut and his comeback in 2015, he missed 9 Tests, mostly due to injuries and the consequent fall in confidence.
He made his comeback to the Test side when India played South Africa at home in November 2015. And since then, he has cemented a place for himself in the Test team, only to rise with each passing game, even if it was for playing the supporting role to Ravichandran Ashwin.
The alterations he made to his bowling, largely to bowl flighted deliveries and draw batsmen forward, as opposed to bowling darts, which he did before, has yielded great results.
India’s home season
After winning 10 of their 13 Test matches at home, one of the biggest takeaways for captain Kohli from this long home season was Jadeja’s emergence as a spinning all-rounder on all pitch conditions.
With 556 runs and 71 wickets from 13 games, ‘Sir Jadeja’ himself now believes that he is a competent longer format all-rounder.
"There's self-satisfaction and now I am suitable for both formats and the confidences inherently increases that I can back myself as a longer version player. My shoulder is on auto-mode and everything is happening automatically," Jadeja had said after the fourth Test.
Through the course of the home season, he has had success against all oppositions on all types of surfaces. And the main reason for this is his flexibility, his ability to adapt to the changing requirements of a situation. On a rank turner where the gentlest tweaks turn big, he tossed the ball up into the rough, putting enough body behind to turn it square. On surfaces conducive to spin bowling but turned less, Jadeja tried to pitch the ball wide, inviting the batsman to play away from the body and in turn earning an outside edge or two.
After his remarkable performance in the third Test at Ranchi, former Australian captain Michael Clarke tweeted, “Once again 5 wickets for Jadeja. On a wicket that hasn't had much spin or bounce in this first innings he has been a class above."
For his all-round performance in the series-deciding Test at Dharamsala, the Saurashtra cricketer was adjudged the Man of the Match. With that, he has equaled Virat Kohli, who also bagged three Man of the Match awards in this long home season. The stand-out point for Jadeja, though, was that he got a man of the match trophy in all three important series i.e. against New Zealand, England and Australia. This was his fifth Man of the Match award of his Test career and first Man of the Series award.
Another proof that he is India’s new ‘all-rounder’ is that he has 6 fifty-plus scores in the 2016-17 season, the same number as Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay, and just one shy of KL Rahul.
At the end of what was a long and competitive home season, Ravindra Jadeja proved two things – he is no longer just the second fiddle to spin spearhead Ashwin, and his success doesn’t depend on dustbowls.
For captain Kohli, Jadeja will be the spin spearhead when India play outside the sub-continent. After all, the guy who not long ago was the butt of many jokes on the internet is firmly seated on the top of ICC’s throne of the best Test bowlers, with a sword in his hand, of course!
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