India have now taken the first innings lead in an unprecedented four consecutive Tests in Australia. Two of those (81 in a 204-run seventh wicket stand with Rishabh Pant in 2019 at Sydney and Sunday’s 40* in the unbroken 104-run stand with Ajinkya Rahane) wouldn’t have been possible without Ravindra Jadeja.
Yet, he has never been considered a pure batsman. Not even two Ranji Trophy triple centuries have changed that. It isn’t easy being Jadeja. Fielder par excellence and an accomplished left-arm spinner with first-class batting credentials, his value is unquestioned in the shorter formats. Tests though haven’t been kind to him. Second spinner at home, ignored abroad, one can understand if Jadeja feels shortchanged due to India’s blinkered vision that refuses to recognise him as a batsman who can bowl, not the other way around.
As a result, Jadeja—playing his 50th Test—has spent less than a quarter of his Test career in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries. If he didn’t make the cut purely as a batsman, it was because Jadeja was considered a spinner first. And he is not seen as India’s best spin option abroad. R Ashwin has held that mantle. That was fine as long as Ashwin contributed with the bat too. With runs drying up in the last few seasons (Ashwin’s last fifty came in 2017—his average in 2019 is 12 and in 2020 is 4.75), Ashwin as a spinner is under huge pressure to perform. On the other hand, Jadeja has averaged 51.75 with the bat away from home since the start of 2017. And he remains as efficient—economic if not penetrative—with the ball.
Batsmen fear his arm as well. And only he can hang on to a catch like he did to dismiss Mathew Wade on Day 1 at the MCG after Shubman Gill almost collided into him going for it. Severely underbowled in Melbourne—he sent down just 5.3 overs compared to Ashwin’s 24—Jadeja the batsmen had to make it count after joining stand-in skipper Rahane with half the side dismissed for 173.
End of Day 2, India have Jadeja to thank as much as Rahane for a likely match-altering partnership in which he put aside his flashy version and played most deliveries on merit. The only boundary Jadeja hit came 52 balls into his innings. Cameron Green’s wide and back of the length delivery deserved to be punished and standing tall, Jadeja steered it behind point.
Otherwise Jadeja was content to defend the short-pitched stuff, leaving deliveries outside off-stump from Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood initially. By the time Nathan Lyon and Green came on, Jadeja had got his eye in. He pulled and cut with ease, running hard for three often when the ball didn’t have the legs to cross the boundary. The most impressive aspect of Jadeja’s innings was his restraint, even when Rahane was scoring quickly after Australia took the second new ball. Like in the penultimate over of the day when Green bent his back and sent a short one. Jadeja just dropped his wrists and watched it go.
There is still a long way to go in this Test. Irrespective of whether Jadeja adds to his overnight score, this innings is special in its own way. Anything less than a fifty doesn’t make the grade these days, but for a No.7 batsman who usually bats with the tail, this should be career-resuscitating. Only that Jadeja knows not to expect. His selection was a combination of many unforced absences and factors. And once Hardik Pandya is fit to bowl, Jadeja may well have to make room for him.
Till then, expect Jadeja to play his part in earnest, and help India drive home the advantage of the left-right batting combination.