Improved Batting Key to Jadeja’s Emergence as Test All-Rounder
Ravindra Jadeja has three first-class triple centuries. He is a very capable batsman. In fact, he averages close to 50 in first-class cricket. These are all trivia you would have heard over and over again if you have been following Indian cricket in the last few years.
However, until 2016, this was nothing more than trivia waiting to be substantiated at the highest level. Unfortunately, most times, that wasn't the case.
In fact, when Jadeja got a look-in in the Indian Test team for Australia's tour of India in 2013, he was selected as a batting all-rounder who could assist the Indian spinning duo of Harbhajan Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin. Though his batting did not live up to the expectation, he overtook Harbhajan Singh as India's second-choice spinner and has been going strong ever since.
The Lone Spinner Question
Whenever India tour overseas, there is always another film playing on simultaneously, which is the choice of the only spinning option. While India decided to go with Ravichandran Ashwin on their 2014 tours of Australia and England and the South Africa tour of 2018, the team started with Ashwin on the recent Test tours of Australia and England but had to end with Jadeja due to injuries to the former.
By the time India arrived on the Caribbean shores for their last Test series, Ravindra Jadeja had edged past Ashwin to become India's first-choice overseas spinner due to his contributions with the bat. That he is a live wire in the field only helps.
“Look, Jaddu, we felt, was in a better zone as far as performing overseas and and what he has done in the past season for the team. Wherever the conditions provide us to go with two spinners, Ash is always going to be a threat and in home conditions with his batting and the way he bowls as well he is always going to be starting with Jadeja. That was a no brainer for us,” Kohli told reporters ahead of the first South Africa Test.
Batting Returns of Jadeja and Ashwin
Till 2016, Ravichandran Ashwin was miles ahead of Jadeja when it came to batting prowess, so much so that Ashwin was considered as an example for Jadeja to follow. Ashwin batted at No. 6 on India's 2016 tour of the West Indies and compiled two hundreds. At the end of that tour, Ashwin had scored 1,439 Test runs at 34.26, including four hundreds and six fifties, while Jadeja had managed just 495 at 20.62, with just the one fifty in 26 innings.
It seems as if somebody flipped a switch after that. Post that tour, Jadeja has scored 1,226 runs in 40 Test innings at an average of 47.15, with 11 fifties and a maiden hundred.
On the flip side, Ashwin averages a meagre 17.90 in the 23 innings that he has batted since then, with a half-century eluding him since August 2017.
When the Test series against South Africa began, Jadeja found himself at No. 9 in the team sheet with Wriddhiman Saha and R Ashwin placed ahead of him. As it has turned out, with 214 runs from four innings at an average of 71.33, Jadeja has now climbed to No. 6, leapfrogging Saha and Ashwin in the pecking order.
Jadeja has taken to his new role like a fish to water. Although the sample size has only 6 innings at No. 6, he averages 68.33 with two half-centuries and the top score of 91. This is in contrast to his figures at other batting positions.
The all-rounder averages just under 35 in the 30 innings that he has batted at No. 8 in Tests and 27.5 in his 18 innings at No. 7. These are essentially the two batting positions that he has batted at, most of his career. Jadeja has also batted as low as No. 9 in 11 Test innings, averaging 38.
Jadeja's Bowling on Batting Wickets Needs Work
What the 30-year-old would like to work on a bit more is to become a genuine wicket-taker rather than being a bowler who just holds one end up in conditions which are not spin friendly. India did not prepare rank turners in Vizag and Pune and that has showed a clear difference between the guile of Jadeja and Ashwin, with the former's bowling average reading 34.40, vis-a-vis Ashwin's 21.64 in the first two Tests.
With Jadeja showing signs of coming back to his best in the third Test, the tussle between the two premier Indian spinners promises to continue and heat up in the times to come.
That the Indian team management prefers to go in with five proper bowlers in home conditions to avoid a burn out, given that there is a lot of bowling to do on the unresponsiveness Indian tracks, Jadeja's elevation to No. 6 comes as a blessing for the team. This not only provides balance to the outfit but will give the team an opportunity to play an extra bowler if Jadeja can show the same level of application on overseas tours as well.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest.)
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