Chennai has been kind to Ravindra Jadeja.
The star all-rounder last took the field at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in a First Class match in December 2016, for India, against England. Jadeja picked a seven-wicket haul in the second innings on his way to career-best Test figures of 10/154 in that game. His first and only other outing at Chepauk was as a 25-year-old during his debut series for India. Playing his second Test match, Jadeja took five wickets as India went on to beat Australia by eight wickets.
Then there are the four Indian Premier League titles with Chennai Super Kings.
This week, when Jadeja turned up at the venue, he was shadowed by a National Cricket Academy coach. Making a comeback after five months following a knee injury, Jadeja had to prove his fitness ahead of the upcoming Border-Gavaskar Trophy against Australia.
After three days of play, you can say he has aced the test.
Signs were imminent of Tamil Nadu and Saurashtra squaring off on a classic Chennai pitch - turn on offer and the ball keeping low with the odd one surprising batters with extra bounce - in a round seven Ranji Trophy match.
Tamil Nadu secured a 300-plus total in the first innings and bundled Saurashtra in 60 overs to gain a massive 132-run lead.
Jadeja, who is also Saurashtra’s captain in Jaydev Unadkat’s absence, wasted no time as he took the new ball and struck in his first over. Jadeja drew Shahrukh Khan out on the front foot with a good-length delivery, beat his outside edge and hit the off-stump - the only highlight he offered in his opening five-over spell.
Dharmendrasinh Jadeja supported him ably from the other end and removed two batters within the first five overs. Off-spinner Yuvrajsinh Dodiya then replaced Jadeja.
The break in spell, however, was merely to change ends. Jadeja did not want to stop. He kept at it for 12 overs straight. The Jadeja one had known over the years was back - drilling in deliveries, sticking to stump-to-stump lines, offering neither flight nor room, and finishing overs in a blink.
“I’m used to bowling long spells, so nothing new. I was enjoying it. The pitch was assisting me. When we were batting, the odd ball was spinning and keeping low. So, I was keen to bowl a long spell,” Jadeja said after the close of day’s play.
After some resistance from the Tamil Nadu duo of Baba Indrajith and Sai Sudarshan, Jadeja made inroads.
Indrajith was the first to go. On a pitch where the ball kept low, the batter made the mistake of hanging back. The ball snuck under his bat, and Indrajith got castled. Tamil Nadu captain Pradosh Ranjan Paul did not learn from his predecessor. He, too, erred in staying back in the crease and was trapped leg before.
Vijay Shankar took charge to arrest the decline with some aggressive shots. He lofted one over mid-on off Jadeja for four runs. In Jadeja’s next over, Shankar, attempting a sweep, misread the line, and was judged leg-before. A third umpire check revealed Jadeja had overstepped, and Shankar was handed a reprieve.
Riding on the confidence of his purple patch, Shankar dared to attempt a sweep off the very next delivery but met the same fate. This time Jadeja’s landing foot was behind the crease as Saurashtra got its seventh wicket.
As he wrapped the tail in his next three overs, Jadeja showed that rocking back in the crease is not the way to counter him. Stepping out and playing on the front foot would not help either.
Ajith Ram and M. Siddharth were foxed attempting a front-foot defence while Sandeep Warrier holed out to mid-on, attempting to clear his leg and play across the line.
In the 23rd over, Tamil Nadu was hoping for a recovery with just three wickets down. By the 37th, it folded as Jadeja finished with figures of 17.1-3.53-7.
“Playing a game after such a long time and feeling really well. Hopefully, I am good to go now. It was tough on the first day but as the game progressed, I was feeling good,” Jadeja said after bagging his 29th First Class fifer.
Earlier in the day, Jadeja looked fluent with the bat too. Though his stay lasted only 23 balls, Jadeja struck three boundaries - two pull shots through mid-wicket and a sweep past square-leg.
Jadeja insisted he is ready for the big Aussie challenge. For a major part of this game, he’s shown that with the ball. But as one of India’s limited left-handed batting options for the Test series, some more time with the bat will add weight to his claim. With Saurashtra chasing 262 runs on the final day under tricky circumstances, Jadeja will have the perfect opportunity to test his mettle.