Jadeja, the gladiator who goes to bank

At 2.59pm IST on Thursday, it had already been about five minutes of treatment. Normally, you would say “get on with it”, but you were probably too involved. It could be a pivotal moment, you felt. The skills of Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav are irreplaceable, but Hardik Pandya performs a role for India nobody else can do: a seam-bowling allrounder good enough to hold down his place for batting alone in many other sides. Pandya was down and getting treatment.

Pandya tried to run in to bowl again, but eventually went off the field and off for scans, the results of which the whole nation will await. The anxiety around the injury is understandable. There are back-ups for the best of the batters, there are bowling back-ups, and the other allrounder has a like-for-like replacement. However, does anyone have the body of work the other allrounder has?

There might be others answering to the job description of Ravindra Jadeja, but there aren’t many that are doing the job as well as him. Looking at his flamboyance, Jadeja will be the last person you’d think of as a banker, but that is what he is for India.

In the absence of the allrounder likelier to be missed more, Jadeja finally got to bask in some of the spotlight. He was the one who went on to bowl all ten overs, and not without reason: two wickets and just 38 runs. Seven wickets in four matches in the World Cup so far at a strike rate better than in the recent past, but that is not what has made Jadeja the asset he is.

And yet Jadeja is so much of a bank clerk that the day the adjudicators decided he was the Player of the Match, Virat Kohli swooped in, and in the words of an adjudicating commentator, “stole it” with his century.

Jadeja made his ODI comeback in July 2022. Since then, he has been the third-most economical bowler among those who have bowled 100 or more overs for and against the teams playing this World Cup. Only Shakib Al Hasan and Keshav Maharaj have done better than Jadeja’s 4.52 an over. In this duration, Jadeja has given India eight overs per bowling innings; only Bumrah and Mohammed Shami have bowled more per match.

For all intents and purposes, Jadeja has been as good as any specialist bowler in this phase of his ODI career. His batting, admittedly not needed enough, is a significant second skill. The fielding is a significant bonus.

Left by the wayside at the start of the wristspin fad, then making his comeback as an allrounder who didn’t quite nail his place with at least one discipline back in 2019, Jadeja has become this banker by going against the grain of limited-overs cricket: mastering his main deliveries and thinking less about the variations.

At a time when people talk just about the wickets, Jadeja has forgotten about the wickets but instead looked at his control. As Cheteshwar Pujara observed on ESPNcricinfo, he hardly bowls the parallel-seam under-cutter in ODIs. He is just trying to spin the ball the hardest he can without sacrificing his control, his ability to end on the stumps, which comes naturally to him.

Despite the extra fielder inside the circle, despite the two new balls that turn less, Jadeja – and indeed Shakib and Maharaj – has remained relevant without any mystery. Most of Jadeja’s bowling has happened in the middle overs, but he has also bowled 13 at the death at 3.74 an over.

Pune was no different. On a pitch that had nothing for the spinners, with no big boundaries to play with, Jadeja dragged Bangladesh back along with Kuldeep even as they were looking to go after one or two of the bowlers in Hardik’s absence.

One of the reasons behind the team’s trust in Jadeja is that left-hand batters have not been able to line him up. In this period, left-hand batters have only scored at 5.46 an over against him. He has also taken a left-hand batter out for every 24 runs he has conceded to them.

Najmul Hossain Shanto was not the first left-hand batter Jadeja trapped lbw this World Cup. He did the same to Alex Carey in the first match. Around the wicket, bowled into the pitch, on middle and leg, and straightening just enough to beat the bat but not miss the stumps, it has been a lethal delivery from Jadeja.

For right-hand batters, who other than Steven Smith to attest to the quality of Jadeja? That dismissal was straight out of Tests: bowling him top of off without letting him come forward, and opening his stance up with the drift. Coming forward is not the prayer you are looking for because he has been hitting the outer half of the bat regularly. No longer can you play him as a left-arm seam bowler angling the old ball in.

It leaves batters with no option but to play the sweep, which is high-risk at Jadeja’s pace. Mohammad Rizwan and Mushfiqur Rahim tried that with limited success because they didn’t succeed in pushing Jadeja off his length.

One unruly customer served, back to issuing currency notes with a smile. David Steele, the grey-haired, bespectacled and unlikely Ashes hero in the 1970s, was called the bank clerk who went to war. Jadeja is the gladiator who goes to bank.

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