Team India's utility man

CRICKET-INDIA/NEWZEALAND Ravindra Jadeja celebrates after taking the wicket of New Zealand's Luke Ronchi | Reuters

You can deride him for his so-called limitations, but you cannot ignore him. Ravindra Jadeja’s ability to bowl six balls in an over with unerring consistency has made him the go-to man for Team India across all formats at home. So, no surprises, when the lean, bearded left-arm spinner stole a bit of a march over his senior bowling partner Ravichandran Ashwin. The southpaw engineered a quick collapse of the New Zealand middle and lower order to put India in the driver’s seat on day three of the Kanpur Test. 

This is Jadeja’s fifth five-wicket haul in the 18 Test matches he has played in. His economy rate is a miserly 2.24, and has taken 76 Test wickets so far. With the fourth innings yet to come in the Test, Jadeja will be licking his chops. 

He had a poor World Cup 2015 down under and was out of the squad due to a shoulder injury. Later, he was not picked for the Sri Lanka tour. However, Jadeja managed to regain his spot in the South Africa series at home after a good show in first-class cricket. Jadeja went back to domestic cricket to earn a recall and has been on a roll since then. In past 10 first class matches he has played in India, Jadeja bagged 11 'five-fors' (including six in consecutive innings).

His ability to bowl a wicket-to-wicket line on turners at home, without getting the ball to turn much, has earned him a fearsome reputation among the visiting teams. This is no fluke or a freak of nature. It was the discipline that was instilled in him during his formative years, and while learning his cricket under the strict supervision of Mahendrasinh Chauhan—a policeman and part-time cricketer with no certified coaching credentials back home in Jamnagar, Saurashtra, that enables him to focus on his job at hand. Criticism from purists does not bother him and he has become a vital part of the Indian team management’s match strategies and combinations. He, however, doesn’t make much of his accuracy. “I have been playing on these pitches for so many years. Since my Under-14, Under-16 and Under-19 days, I have played on similar pitches and same conditions. We have also played on under-prepared pitches that gives you experience,” he said.

His childhood was no bed of roses. His father was not being permanently employed and his mother, a nurse in a government hospital, had to look after the family more often than not. It was a frugal existence for Jadeja in a one-room flat along with his two sisters. 

While growing up, disobeying his father and later, his coach, often meant a hiding. Now 26, Jadeja has realised the importance of discipline, in life and more so, on the pitch. That explains his unwavering accuracy with his line and length, much to the delight of his captain.

“Ashwin and I spoke in the morning about bowling at stumps as much as possible. The idea was to bowl as many maiden overs as possible and build the pressure. This was the plan that we kept in mind and it worked for us,” said Jadeja. 

Before the start of the third day's play, Jadeja spoke to chief coach Anil Kumble, listening to his advice carefully and then executing it perfectly on the field.

“He (Kumble) asked me to bowl in rough areas and look for angles and bowl from wide off the crease. There were a lot of foot marks around the off-stump area. He told me that those marks will have a bearing in the minds of the batsmen,” said Jadeja.

Bowling is not the only reason why Jadeja is a vital cog in the team plans. His fielding is exceptional and his batting always provides the extra runs from the lower order as was the case in the Kanpur Test. His unbeaten 42 helped India go past the 300-run mark.

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