Sportstar Archives: Ajay Jadeja - I am a cheerful person

In this interview from 1995, Ajay Jadeja reflects on his batting, his approach to the game, the influence of Kapil Dev and more.

File image of Ajay Jadeja.   -  RAJEEV BHATT

Smiling through one's troubles. Believe me it is very difficult. It's a rare gift. And it's something that
Ajay Jadeja has. He keeps the Indian team ticking whether or not he is in the team. Behind that smile is a tale of struggle. Jadeja may not show it, but he has endured a lot. But then he has always
been different.

So different that his attitude has often been misunderstood by many, though 'Jaddu' has always remained a battler. He did win a battle when he played a big hand in India's victory in the Bangalore Test. After that win, Jadeja spoke to Sportstar in Madras.

Question: There was a lot of pressure on you when you went into the Bangalore Test. A failure and the critics would have said 'Look, we always said Ajay Jadeja couldn't play Test cricket'.

Answer: That's what some still say. But then I have always tried to prove my critics wrong. Because everything had been building up against me in the past season or so. Even after my hundred against the West Indies in the one-day series last year I did not get too many games. I played a couple of games in New Zealand and couldn't get a chance to bat in Sharjah as I was slated to go at
No. 6. How can somebody say I was not getting runs when I was not getting enough matches to play.

There was pressure from all the sides. The team composition was such. Sherry (Sidhu) was going to be fit for the next game. Anybody who hadn't done well would have been the target. To be out of the team, at the beginning of the season would have been a setback. Thank God everything went right. I hadn't played a Test match for three years. So there was a lot at stake. But I don't blame anybody for not playing too many games. The Indian team is such. It is so strong that there is little room for change. I fully understand the problems of the selectors. I have total faith in them. I must also say at this juncture that my skipper Azharuddin and manager Ajit Wadekar have been extremely supportive of me. I don't blame anybody for missing out on these games. It's just my luck I suppose.

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Your knock in the first innings was a watchful effort, while you just raced ahead in the second innings.

It was a big game for me. If I had failed they would have said 'not good enough for Test match' or whatever. So I was careful in the first innings. After I had got 60-odd out of the 200-odd runs it was a lot easier for me in the second innings. It makes a lot of difference when the captain, the manager and the selectors have a lot of faith in you. So I went for my shots in the second innings. One more thing. At a crucial stage in the first innings Azharuddin was my partner. Ever since I started playing for India he has been the captain. And when one bats with him he takes so much pressure off you. He dominates the bowling. The same with Sachin. He too dominates the bowling. Coming to the
New Zealand bowling, Danny Morrison was conserving his energy. It was not really going for him on this wicket. So he was just bowling up. Most of the time, the Kiwi pacemen were bowling on an off-stump line with seven or eight fielders on the off-side. They were playing a waiting game. They had come with a plan. I felt Morrison and Chris Cairns were good.

Were you going for a hundred in the second knock?

Yes, I went for a hundred in the second innings after tea. Manoj got around 30-odd and 1 am not the sort who would like to remain 95 not out. I would rather get a hundred. But maybe I eased up a bit when we had very few runs to get. But then you always learn from your mistakes.

Did the captaincy of the India 'A' team to Kenya come as a surprise?

I have always been a thinking cricketer. Even before the tour, I always thought about the game. It was only that I didn't try to show people that I was a thinking cricketer. I think what you do on the field is more important than what you do off it. Captaining an Indian team to Kenya was a great opportunity. It was an honour.

Jadeja has forged an excellent understanding with Sachin Tendulkar while opening the batting in ODIs.

 

Was the captaincy a burden?

On the contrary 1 enjoyed it. It got the best out of me in the end. I am glad that Sandip Patil had good things to say about me in the end. It was a totally new experience being with him. He was very accommodating, not just with me, but with everyone else, more like a friend. He is willing to experiment with things. We went into the last three matches with the plan that I would bowl in the slog overs and I did fairly well. That's one advantage of being the captain. I can use myself better.

When you look back at your career, do you think about the lost time?

Yes, I do. If I had had a slightly belter tour of South Africa, it would have been a different story. Most of the other guys too did not have a good tour of South Africa. And then the England team, which was not the best of the sides, visited India. I just missed out on the first Test at Calcutta. If you look at it a lot of careers have been revived after that Test. Then 1 got a lucky break. Sidhu was injured before the Hero Cup.

You have had a bit of luck with injuries, I mean injuries to other guys.

It's always been like this. Somebody has been injured and I have got a lucky break. It has happened now. I played in New Zealand because Manoj wasn't fit. On that tour I had the highest run aggregate in four matches. Then Manoj didn't come to Sharjah. There I had a match-winning knock against Australia in the semifinals. But I did not get a chance in the Singer Cup in Sri Lanka. And in the Wills Cup at home, I got a chance when Bedade opted out in Madras. Then that Manoj-episode happened in Kanpur and I got a chance to open during last Diwali in Delhi. Got a ninety odd in that game. Then a 60-odd in the final against the Windies. So I have always been a makeshift sort of a
thing.

Do you feel bad about it?

I definitely feel sad about it. If I don't show it. it doesn't mean I don't feel anything about it. But the team has been doing so well of late that it is not very easy to leave somebody out. I always had a feeling that my time was going to come. But it's been like at times it's only one game I get. If I don't
do well I am in a big trouble.

You and Sachin make a very good opening pair in one-dayers. You seem to understand him pretty well.

I really enjoy batting with Sachin. One reason could be we are both fast runners between the wickets. We try to help each other a lot. Sachin dominates the bowling, so it's easier for the other
guy. He likes to talk during the overs. There are some who don't like talking during the overs. We talk a lot.

Going back to the tour of South Africa a lot of people seem to have forgotten the fact that you batted with a split webbing in the fourth Test.

I guess things are noticed only if you win the game. I had a split webbing in my left hand. Yet I hung around for four hours in the first innings and 1-1/2 in the second. I suffered because the team didn't do well.

Some say your approach is too casual.

I am a cheerful person. But at times, because of this, some feel it doesn't matter to Ajay Jadeja whether he is in the team or not, whether he gets a zero or scores a hundred. But it does make a lot of difference to me. I don't show it. Some feel 'Jadeja is not serious'. Come on. Somebody who is not serious about the game can never play for India. If it were that easy why doesn't every Tom, Dick and Harry play for the country. It's just that I keep my emotions to myself. But now things are changing. Now some feel 'he does think about the game after all'. Sunny bhai had a few good things to say about me during the West Indies tour which helped. I used to joke around before going in to bat. I had two bad innings and he told me a few things about the game. It really makes a difference. Men like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev are rare.

Jadeja credits Kapil Dev for whatever he has learned about the game. Photo: The Hindu Archives

 

You have a special bond with Kapil Dev.

Whatever cricket I have learnt. I learnt it from Kapil paaji. He was a great inspiration for me. Previously, I used to do all my training at night, running etc. 1 used to get up very late in the
morning. But when I had the opportunity of training with Pajji, I woke up at 5 a.m. I used to go to Paaji's place, wake him up. He used to have his tea and we would go for a run. I learnt a lot from
Kapil paaji about cricket and life.

Cricket and life?

Everything in cricket can be related to life. Your grooming. How you carry yourself off the field.

You come from a great cricketing family.

They were great cricketers. They were two generations away. My grandfather's younger brother was Duleepsinhji, his uncle Ranjitsinhji. My father was a Member of Parliament from 1971 to 1990. That is why we came to Delhi.

Your parents must have played a great role in shaping you.

My parents pushed me to work harder. If I didn't get runs in a match I would get a call from them. They were more concerned about my game than I was. My mother used to stitch my thigh pads. Yes, I owe a lot to them.

They must have been delighted after your performance in Bangalore.

My mother was admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state during the time I was batting in the second innings. The news was kept away from me till the end of the knock. That is why I had
to rush back to Delhi after the match. It was malaria which got aggravated. At one stage she was not recognising people. Now she has recovered. Thank God. My parents were delighted. My mother, too, was telling me how important this match was for me.

What about the fear of failures and the pressure to succeed?

You will have success and you will have failures. If you don't see failures then how can you enjoy your success. I don't think there is a player who has not seen failures. Whatever one might say you have to take failures in your stride. But the difference between an ordinary player and a great one is when he fails. A lot depends on that. Even the big scores you get. A hundred in a game won means more than one in a drawn game.

But whether one is doing well or not one should remain the same. If a man changes after success. I won't think much of him. I have seen guys who have changed with school friends even. They want to be treated like heroes. But every player has this fear failure. Whether he accepts it or not. But actually it is not such a bad thing. It makes you push harder. It makes you a stronger individual. If you see a player who has been in the Indian team for sometime he becomes a stronger personality if not anything else. Because you tend to get tougher with failures. Everyone has got a different kind of pressure to succeed. A senior man, to maintain his status in the society. For a great player, the pressure to match his own expectations. And for somebody who is playing for the first time, the pressure to retain his place in the team.

Here the mental strength comes into play.

A mentally strong player is better than a technically good one. When the going is good anybody can get a hundred. The great player always get them when the team needs it. At international level it is the most important thing. And this aggression should he within. A lot of guys act tough on the field but you know that inside them they arc not feeling too good. Mental strength and aggression go together.

The smile never leaves your face...

I feel that way. I am always happy. No matter how things are. They could be bad too. Even in things other than cricket. If I had a fight, and then the next moment I come out of the room, I would be totally different. Nobody will know that I've had a fight. But people sometimes take me for granted. They think because I smile all the time I am not serious. As I told you earlier, I do feel about things.

You must concede your fielding provided you a lifeline, something you could cling to when things were not going your way.

To start with I was not a good fielder. But as I grew older I began to enjoy it. You have to enjoy fielding, otherwise it will be a burden. It is like mathematics. The more you do, the better you become. And it's got nothing to do with physique and things like that. You have a different set of exercises for fielding, like bending, picking up the ball, aiming at the stumps. It's got nothing to do with physique. Look at Ranatunga. He looks fat. but he is quicker than a lot of other guys.

Fielding can help a player a lot. They say even if he gets out for a zero, he can save 30-40 runs on the field. But a lot depends on the captain. If he himself is a bad fielder, he won't give much importance to fielding. In that respect I am lucky to have Azharuddin as my skipper. He is a great fielder himself and lays stress on fielding. So it's an advantage to me.

One remembers your two great catches. One against Australia in the World Cup when you took that catch to dismiss Allan Border. And the other was that great effort in Sharjah, to dismiss Romesh Kaluwitharana.

The catch to dismiss Allan Border was a dream come true. As a kid you imagine all sorts of things, like what you would do in your first game for India, That was the first game I played for India. You have to go for everything. If it sticks it sticks. The catch at Sharjah was different. I was standing at point and the ball was going over my head at great speed. I took it like a football goalkeeper would. I play other games too and it helps.

You said earlier that you are a thinking cricketer. What changes did you bring about in your batting over the years?

In South Africa I was shuffling too much. My head was not still. Then I went to England, played in the minor county and ironed out the defect. I'll tell you this, in the beginning, I always thought that good technique meant playing with the same technique on all the wickets. Side-on and things like that. Then I realised that you have to make small adjustments according to the wicket. And you have to implement what you think is right. No use otherwise.

Indian team celebrates with Jadeja after he takes the catch to dismiss Romesh Kaluwitharana in Sharjah.

 

You first entered the Indian squad when you were just 19. It must have been a great surprise then.

I had gone with the under-19 team to Pakistan. Funny thing then I was in the India under-19 team but couldn't make it to the school team which was very strong. It was an added incentive for me to do well. It kept me going. Nayan Mongia was there in the under-19 team. Aashish Kapoor was in the squad. It was a tough tour. It groomed us for bigger battles ahead, and not crib about little things. Pakistan then had home umpires and you know how it would have been like. I got a string of leg before decisions hut it was alright. It was hard but I made runs. That year I did not make too many runs in the Ranji Trophy, but I made runs in the Wills Trophy. I was in the standby list for the
tour of Sharjah. I was sitting in my room when one of the journalists informed me that I was in the squad since Atul Wassan had an injury. It had always been my dream to play for the country. Anyway I did not play during that tournament. I was young, I did not really feel bad and I took it in my stride. I finally played my first game for the country during the World Cup.

How did you feel when you walked out for the first time with the team?

Azhar was the captain. I was behind Paaji. I always believed that I would play for India, but 1 never thought I would play with Kapil Dev. In my younger days he was like a God to me. I didn't have the words to express myself.

Who were your other cricketing heroes?

I was in England in 1983 with my father and Gordon Greenidge was a big influence. I saw a lot of his innings and it stayed with me. Sunil Gavaskar was a man I always looked up to. Any Indian would. And Mohinder Amarnath. I liked his guts especially. In my school days Maninder Singh was a big influence. He played for the club we were practising. He was like a father figure. He helped me a lot. I picked up a lot about fielding from him since he was a superb fielder. I learnt from Gursharan Singh too, who was a good fielder during his time.

You seem to have a great rapport with Ali Irani.

Ali, I think we take him for granted. We joke with him. He has moulded himself in such a nice way that he is different with everyone. He may not know much about the game, but he's seen people come and go. So he has picked up things which are right for cricket. If it is a birthday for someone, there is always a card ready from him. If anyone wants vegetarian food during the tours, he would arrange it somehow. So he is more than just a doctor.

Who is the toughest bowler you have faced in international cricket so far?

Brett Schultz of South Africa. He is a left-arm bowler, which is obviously an advantage. He has a different type of action, whippy one. He is genuinely quick and can swing the ball a great deal at that pace. A 'Wasim' kind of a bowler. Wasim is great too. hut I found Schultz more difficult to face. It is not just the speed. He is very expressive. Perhaps that's the reason I like him more. I like to speak my mind, but you can't always do it in this country. Here if you want to succeed you got to be quiet.

Has there been a time when you've got provoked?

If you react, then the opponent has won half the battle. Even if someone uses abusive words don't show it. I always smile back. I'll give you an example. In the Bicentennial tournament in New Zealand last year, we were playing South Africa. I was finding it difficult to get Symcox away. The
off-spinner had a few words to say to me. The idea was to make me lose my temper. I just smiled back and said "What are you doing in the evening.' Just to make him feel there is no use provoking me.

A player always remembers a piece of advice he had received early on in his career. It stays at the back of his mind.

Kapil paaji once told me 'work hard, be sincere and don't worry about the rest.' That perhaps sums up everything. You can fool others but not yourself. I will always remember those words from the big man. Actually after my Bangalore performance he must have been more happy than me. He always believed in my ability.

Can you tell us about Ajay Jadeja, the person?

I am very laid back. I like to take things as they come, not just in cricket. I tend to take my own time. I am not an organised person. If I have to go to Bombay I will not book my ticket or inform someone to do the same. I am the kind who would just go to the airport and take a chance. I don't plan things in life. I feel it is okay but my mother feels it is very wrong. I never used to get up early in the morning. She used to say 'How can you be a sportsman if you don't get up early.' I am not an organised person. Before travelling for a match I wouldn't pack my stuff. With me it is always at
the last moment. I guess I do everything ulta. I have my own way of doing things. Also, I am happy with whatever I get. I am a firm believer in destiny. If I am destined to get something I will get it. I am like any normal 24-year-old Delhi boy. I like to do things any youngster would. I listen to music. I prefer reggae. I like to lead my own life and play my own game. When it comes to the game, I enjoy the game. I don't have to play this game for money. My grandfather and father have made enough. It is the pride of playing for the country that keeps me going.

Where do you go from here?

This is just the beginning. There is a lot still left to to be done. But I am with a great team. A united team. There is no more of the South-North-West-East business. If somebody is in trouble, the other man helps him out. We always understand each other's problems.

(This article was first published in Sportstar on November 4, 1995)

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