The moustache and the beard are trimmed, and the mohawk is gone. But the swagger is back, and so are the wickets. For a player who has been on a roller-coaster ride ever since he burst into the international stage, Ravindra Jadeja is a man of few words—both on and off the field.
When he does speak, his words are as straight as his trademark delivery that has bamboozled even the best of batsmen. “I thought I have to do well for India, too. Otherwise you get an image that you do well only in domestic cricket, and not in international cricket. I was worried about that more than anything,” said Jadeja after the first Test match against South Africa in Mohali, where he was declared man of the match. He had scalped eight wickets in his comeback match for Team India. Five of them were in the second innings, which had the visitors at sea while playing spin on a rough turner.
If 2008 was the breakthrough year for the Saurashtra cricketer, 2015 is the year of reaffirmation. He had been out of the Test team since the tour of England in 2014. His last ODI series was against Bangladesh in June this year. A tepid form in the World Cup and a shoulder injury saw selectors looking for an all-rounder elsewhere. Ironically, for someone slotted as a shorter-format guy (many purists raised their eyebrows when he got his Test cap from Sachin Tendulkar in Nagpur against England in 2012), Jadeja has made a comeback in a Test series.
The break, it seems, helped. Jadeja spent time with his horses at his stud farm near Jamnagar, which has been one of India's main breeding grounds for cricketers. “I thought, let me enjoy my horseriding. It was a good time. I just rode horses. One month before the Ranji Trophy began, I began practising and working out,” he said. His hard work and the support of his state association paid off: he scalped 38 wickets from four matches.
Jadeja does not ruminate; he accepts situations and gets on with it. Horses are not ruminants. Shitanshu Kotak, Saurashtra coach and his former teammate, describes Jadeja as a very sorted-out, down-to-earth guy. “If a player is out of Team India, it hurts him a lot. But the quality that stands out in Jadeja is that he never shows he is hurt. You will not see regret on his face. He will go about what he needs to do quietly,” he said.
Kotak recounts an incident in the third season of the Indian Premier League. Jadeja had, by then, become a “rockstar”, in the words of his Rajasthan Royals skipper Shane Warne. He was banned for a year for flouting players’ guidelines and trying to negotiate a more lucrative contract with other IPL franchises. “I was in the same room as him when he got the news. His reaction was, ‘OK, so I won’t play for a year’. That was it. He never showed regret, or broke down in front of me. I would have been very upset if it were to happen to me. He has a big, never-say-die spirit,” said Kotak. After a year, Jadeja returned to IPL with a bang—Chennai Super Kings snapped him up for $2 million (Rs.9.8 crore).
Speak to any coach, captain or teammate of Jadeja's at any level, and they will vouch for his reliability. From his Saurashtra captain Jaydev Shah to ODI and T20 skipper M.S. Dhoni and Test skipper Virat Kohli, all know the value Jadeja brings to the side. Incidentally, Kohli had also captained him in the U-19 World Cup-winning team in Malaysia in 2008.
Team India's bowling coach Bharath Arun calls Jadeja a bankable bowler. “I guess he had some time to reflect when he was out of the team,” he said. “He had time to think about where to improve. Jadeja is one of our 'banker' bowlers, whether it is a Test or an ODI. He is using that to his advantage now.”
Experts call him dangerous on turning wickets, bowling with the semi-new ball, quick, consistent, accurately pitching the ball on off-stump and keeping it straight, befooling the right-hand batsman, who is looking for it to spin. “That ball of his is a very dangerous ball,” said Kotak. “He is by far the best left-arm spinner at home currently.”
Jaydev Shah describes him as a team player. “Whenever he has played for Saurashtra, he has won matches for us,” he said. “He never says no to playing for the team when he is available. If he doesn't perform with the bat, he would try to perform with the ball or make a difference with his fielding.” This was amply evident in Mohali, where his quick fielding had South Africans scurrying back to their crease.
“He is a player any coach would love to have in his side,” said Kotak. “He doesn't play Ranji matches for himself; he plays them to ensure that his team wins. He often tells me, ‘What's the use of playing, if not to get the team to win. If I play and the team wins, I would get picked [to Team India]. But, if the team doesn't win, then I do not deserve to be picked.’”
In Tests, Jadeja adds to the variety that Kohli has at his disposal in the spin department. He also adds muscle to it. The trio of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, leg-spinner Amit Mishra and Jadeja makes India a formidable bowling side at home. The Proteas, for instance, looked psyched out while facing Ashwin’s ever-threatening off-spin, Jadeja’s accuracy and Mishra’s flight.
Ashwin and Jadeja are chalk and cheese. Ashwin, who now leads the bowling attack, is known to pay attention to detail. He has plans and plots for each batsman. Jadeja keeps things simple. The changes he has brought into his action have been working well.
“He is not into dissecting his bowling, as he does with his batting,” said Kotak. “He is very keen on improving in that department. After the day's play, he has to see the video to check what went right or wrong with his batting.”
The bowler and the fielder in Jadeja have rediscovered their mojo. It is time for the batsman to rebound.