Every bit deserving of the ‘Sir’ tag

Ravindra Jadeja is now really humming as an all-rounder for India. Arun Venugopal takes a look at the Saurashtra player’s career graph.

There was barely an attempt to suppress the chuckles (which rapidly rose to resounding bursts of cachinnation) in the media box once Ravindra Jadeja had got out. He had decided to let a James Pattinson delivery thud into the ’keeper’s gloves. The ball seemed to have a mind of its own, though, hitting the top of off.

Barely had he reached the confines of the change room when Facebook and Twitter timelines were being slapped with the same image — that of Jadeja shouldering arms to Pattinson. Among the many hilariously-captioned versions was ‘The Art of Leaving by Sri Sri Ravindra Jadeja.’

It happened in Chennai on February 24, 2013, a hot Sunday afternoon that foreboded a blazing summer. Mahendra Singh Dhoni would go on to score a series-shaping double-hundred but little else was earth-shattering about the day. Certainly not the kind of poignant stuff that would nudge cricket tragics to reach for their box of napkins.

But it was perhaps the last time that Jadeja would be the target of contemptuous humour — something he had endured since his first steps on the International stage.

The jokes are still very much the fad — it appears that the ‘Sir’ references haven’t suffered nearly as much as a minor dip — but gone are the odious remarks.

Much credit for the new-found respect should deservedly go to ‘Sir’ himself. In over a month since the Chennai dismissal, the man from Saurashtra, with 24 wickets, became the second highest wicket-taker in India’s 4-0 whitewash of Australia.

His batting exploits nevertheless weren’t all that flattering; Dhoni had to promote himself to six to allow his younger teammate find his feet in Test cricket.

In the preceding ODI series against England, however, the 24-year-old gave a good account of himself with the bat. Following his debut in Nagpur against the English, the Australian series was his first full-fledged assignment as an ‘all-rounder’. His recent successes have naturally spawned off a series of questions, mostly on the lines of ‘is he the answer to India’s all-round woes?’

Before something of an answer is attempted, Jadeja’s career-graph requires revisiting. As a left-arm spinner capable of accurate darts and as a biffer in the lower-middle order, Jadeja was seen by Dhoni as a useful link-man between the specialist batsmen and the bowlers. The Indian captain’s quest for balance resulted in a preference for someone such as Jadeja. Besides, Dhoni’s desire to exercise control in the middle overs had to be backed up by a miserly fifth-bowler.

His persistence with Jadeja didn’t bear fruit immediately; many saw a possible selection punt as favouritism. ‘Jaddu’ too didn’t make a strong enough case for himself; his 35-ball 25 against England in the Super Eight match of the World T20 in 2009 was seen as another indictment. But a lot has changed since the 50-over World Cup in 2011, which he wasn’t a part of.

Only a handful of members remain from that team and a reinvigorated Jadeja is proving to be more influential than ever before. His role as a bowler is particularly crucial given the rule-changes that mandate no fewer than five men inside the circle at all times. With Yuvraj Singh not in the scheme of things, Jadeja could be seen as a like-for-like replacement. While he may not wield the same clout as a batter, Jadeja’s bowling is seen to be more incisive than Yuvraj’s. Initially thought to be innocuous, it’s among the most efficient in the business now. A reliance on the ‘attack the middle-stump relentlessly’ strategy has paid handsome rewards.

Jadeja’s fielding is a terrific add-on; his suppleness forged with slick reflexes and powerful throws makes him a quintessential part of the modern game. His batting has come of age as well. By scoring three triple-centuries in first-class cricket — he managed two in last year’s Ranji Trophy — he became the first Indian and eighth cricketer to achieve the feat. The record, at least in the eyes of many fans and critics, was no more than another object of ridicule. There was criticism, too, when Jadeja was bought for $2 million by Chennai Super Kings in the IPL auction last year. His performances in IPL-6 seemed to more than justify his acquisition.

His multi-utility avatar also came to the fore against South Africa and West Indies in the Champions Trophy matches recently.

Debu Mitra, Jadeja’s coach at Saurashtra, told ESPNCricinfo recently: “He is only 23-24 years old, he is an intelligent cricketer and is a natural. He shouldn’t be over-coached. I want him to be the best all-rounder for India.”

Sooner rather than later, there might be some comparisons with the great Kapil Dev. India has had its share of all-rounders in the past — with several pretenders and a few genuine ones. There have been the likes of Madan Lal and Roger Binny, Mohinder Amarnath to an extent, Manoj Prabhakar, and Robin Singh. But no one really has had Kapil’s impact in the long run.

Whether Jadeja goes the Kapil way and achieves similar consistent success across formats, or creates his own template, remains to be seen.

Jadeja doesn’t even classify himself as a batting or bowling all-rounder. “If I do only one of the two, my image of an all-rounder won’t be there. So I have to make improvements in both departments,” he had said during the Chennai Test.

What’s certain is that he has proved many a doubter wrong. Shane Warne, who had hailed Jadeja as a ‘Rockstar’ during the latter’s days with Rajasthan Royals, and Dhoni, the now-mustachioed youngster’s biggest backer, could lean back on their chairs and triumphantly proclaim: “We knew it all along, didn’t we?”