Selectors Must Communicate: Jalaj Saxena Keeps India Dream Alive
Any cricketer would be chuffed to bits to see his name in the same league as that of Indian legends like Kapil Dev, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Hazare, Ravi Shastri, Lala Amarnath and Manoj Prabhakar, among others.
And Kerala all-rounder Jalaj Saxena was no different when he got to know that he had joined the elite list of these cricketers after he became the 19th Indian to score 6,000 or more runs and claim 300 or more wickets in first-class cricket during the Duleep Trophy match between India Red and India Blue on Thursday, 29 August.
In an exclusive interview to The Quint, Saxena said,
However, one major thing that differentiates him from the other 18 players in the list is that he is yet to play for the senior Indian men's cricket team.
All of the other players to achieve this rare feat have represented the national side at some point in their career. But 32-year-old Jalaj is still uncapped.
"Honestly, I knew that I am getting closer to 300 wickets but I didn't know that I am the only uncapped player in that list. I only got to know after the match concluded," he added.
In fact, he has done every possible thing that makes him deserving of a call-up into the Indian squad, at least in Tests if not in the other two formats. He averages 37.30 with the bat in 113 first-class matches and has 14 tons to his name as well, whereas he has equally good bowling numbers as an average of 28.19 and an overall economy of 2.77 would suggest.
Moreover, he has been the recipient of four prestigious BCCI awards (the Lala Amarnath award for being the best all-rounder in Ranji Trophy thrice and the Madhavrao Scindia Award for most wickets in Ranji Trophy season once) during the last four consecutive seasons.
Yet, a national call-up has always eluded him.
Jalaj, however, doesn't let the disappointment affect him. He rather focuses on improving his performance every day, "My job is to keep performing and better it with every match until I get selected."
“My job is to play cricket and I am focusing on that. I hope one day I would play for the country but I don't know why I am not there yet. The thing is I can't keep thinking about it. I rather focus on what I can control," Jalaj said laying emphasis on the necessity of doing things which are in our control as individuals.
‘Selectors Must Communicate With Players’
Consistently getting overlooked, despite performing well, can go on to have a negative impact on the performances and mental health of the players. While that hasn't been the case with Jalaj as he has always taken his performances a notch higher over the years, it is important for the selectors to communicate properly with the players who have always done well and, hence, have been in the selection radar for a long time.
In recent times, many cricketers have openly spoken about how there has been a big communication gap between the players and the selection panel. Jalaj reiterated the same.
However, at the same time, he has stated how he has always done his part as far as communicating with the selectors is concerned – asking them for feedback, be it on call or whenever he has had a chance of meeting them during matches. And the selectors have always responded with the same answer.
"There hasn't been any communication from their side but I have done my part. I have called them up sometimes and I have met them whenever I saw them on the ground.
"I have asked them about what are the skillsets I am lacking and they told that it's not about lacking anything. It's all about time and I'll get my chance when the right time comes. That's all I have heard from them."
Why the MP-Born Jalaj Moved to Kerala
The Madhya Pradesh born all-rounder has also taken some big decisions to give his career a boost on numerous occasions. One of them was making a move to play for Kerala during the 2016 first-class season.
Kerala had only produced two Test cricketers in a century of Indian cricket history. It was a risk he considered worth taking as his performances were not getting recognised in the Madhya Pradesh side. But that didn't stop him from taking the risk as he knew that his performances would definitely get noticed if he was able to help them qualify to the Elite group.
"I wanted to get recognised. I knew that Kerala played in the Plate group and didn't play in the Elite group. So, I thought that if I go to Kerala and put them into Elite group by performing well, then my performances would get recognised. So, I went there and everything fell into the right place as well.
"We qualified to the elite level and then went to the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy last season as we performed really well. So, that was my thought process behind the move. I wanted my performances to get recognised."
Jalaj was the leading run-scorer for Kerala during the 2018/19 Ranji Trophy season with 551 runs to his name at an average of 39.35 in nine matches and was also the third-highest wicket-taker for his side with 28 scalps at an excellent average of 21.89 once again.
In fact, former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly had also praised him for his innings of 143 against Bengal while Jalaj shared the dressing room with Ganguly during his stint with the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2019. That served as a big confidence booster for him.
"It's a privilege and a dream come true when I shared the dressing room with personalities like Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly during my stint with the Delhi Capitals this year. It was an amazing experience. I interacted with Ganguly a lot and I was chuffed when he told me that he saw my innings against Bengal in the Ranji Trophy. I scored a century and he said that it was a brilliant knock. So, those words of appreciation boosted my confidence a lot."
This kind of performance was only a follow up act to his all-round contributions for Kerala during the 2017/18 Ranji season. He had done even better then as he had emerged as the leading wicket-taker that season with 44 wickets in seven matches at a mean average of 17.11 and had also amassed 522 runs with the bat at an outstanding average of 52.20, which made him the second highest run-getter for Kerala that season.
A Balanced All-Rounder
These numbers suggest that Jalaj belongs to that rare breed of proper all-rounders. None of his two skills are weaker or stronger than the other. In fact, he is equally skilful in both departments. He thinks that the key to his success as an all-rounder is his mindset while batting and bowling, "I think as a batsman when I bat and as a bowler when I bowl. Mixing up mindsets don't help at all. So, that's how I approach my game."
Jalaj has now gone past the age of 30 as well. He is 32 years old now and he knows the importance of fitness for performing well. This is something he works hard upon considering the demands of modern day cricket and the conditions he plays in now, "I work really hard on my fitness. Kerala is a very hot and humid place. If I am playing a four-day match, I need to bowl 25-30 overs a day and then suddenly go and pad up to open the innings. So, it requires an extreme fitness level and, hence, I focus a lot on my physical fitness. Yoga also helps me a lot in staying calm."
The journey so far has been quite long for him and the road ahead leading to the doors of the Indian team may be even longer. Anybody would be tired after such a long journey without any fruitful returns, but the love for the game and the dream of playing for India one day keeps Jalaj going.
"I love the game and that's what I am getting to play right now, that too, on a regular basis. Doesn't matter which level I am playing at. And my dream of playing for my country is still intact. So, that keeps me motivated."
(Prasenjit Dey is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @CricPrasen. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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