He is Kerala’s go-to man when it needs runs. He is Kerala’s go-to man when it needs wickets. Jalaj Saxena has obliged, time after time.
Earlier in the week, too, he came to the aid of his side. On a seamer-friendly wicket at the Eden Gardens, against a four-pronged pace attack of Bengal that featured Mohammed Shami and Ashoke Dinda, he scored 143 off 190 balls, opening the innings. It was a brilliant display of attacking shots and resolute defence. It helped Kerala stun Bengal by nine wickets with a day to spare. Saxena was duly named the Man-of-the-Match. Just as he was in the previous game, against Andhra at Thriruvananthapuram. He had made a hundred and then took eight wickets in an innings.
REPORT | Kerala crushes Bengal
He is the only Indian to achieve the feat twice. Even more remarkable is the fact that he has won five Man-of-the-Match awards in the last 10 games he has played for his State side. Kerala won all those matches.
Taking Kerala cricket forward
He is glad that he has been able to contribute to what has been a great run for a team that has struggled for much of the six decades it has played in the Ranji Trophy. This was what he had wished to do when he decided to leave Madhya Pradesh, after 11 long years, and sign up for Kerala.
“I want to take Kerala cricket forward,” he had told Sportstar at the picturesque Wayanad Cricket Stadium, Krishnagiri, two years ago. “I want to help it qualify for the the Ranji Trophy’s knockout stages.”
He has kept his word. Kerala made it to the knockout phase for the first time in history; he scored 522 runs and took 44 wickets (more than anybody else in the competition).
Saxena rates the recent knock against Bengal as one of his best two, the other being his 128 against Mumbai six years ago that almost pulled off a sensational chase, in excess of 300, for Madhya Pradesh, which eventually lost that Ranji game by seven runs.
“The Mumbai attack had Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar and it was a lively wicket at Indore,” Saxena recalls. “Here it was tough batting against Shami, who we all know is a world-class bowler, and Dinda.”
Given his form of the season — 378 runs and 12 wickets with his off-spin — he could be in contention for the best all-rounder award for the fourth time in the last five years. Strangely, the National selectors do not seem to be impressed. “It is disappointing that I am not picked even for the A side,” he says. “But I believe I will play for India one day.”