There were at least 20 kids circling around a glistening black Hayabusa parked outside the clubhouse at the Cricket Bungalow Ground in Jamnagar. Ten minutes later, sporting a pair of blue track pants and jacket, Ravindra Jadeja made his way down from the first-floor pavilion. A little earlier, he had taken part in the final of a local Twenty20 tournament, making full use of the nine-day break India had earned between the second and third Tests against Australia.
Soon, Jadeja ‘turned it on’ and the sound from his double silencers resonated across the clubhouse. Some more ‘vrooooom vrooooom’ and he was gone, leaving behind a cloud of dust. This was just a precursor to his rearranged lifestyle. On the road, fellow travellers were glued to the bike, and the biker. Everyone knows him there, there was something about him and his bike. Kinetic.
It’s not for nothing that Shane Warne called him a ‘Rockstar’. Perhaps he spotted one in him. Audi, Hayabusa, farmhouse, horses and a restaurant complete the line-up of Jadeja’s acquisitions.
Balkrishna Jadeja, Ravindra’s best friend and a Saurashtra Ranji player, describes him as restless. “He is never static, full of energy. (He) drives his Audi all over Jamnagar. We once clocked 200 km/h. He once tried a ‘wheelie’. Both of us fell down. We looked around and, thankfully, there was no one to see us lying on the road. We got up and packed off.”
Right in the centre of Jamnagar is a huge bald piece of land called the Cricket Bungalow Ground. Just a few meters away is a leaning statue of Vinoo Mankad, a reminder of the city’s great cricketing heritage. The great Ranjitsinhji and his nephew Duleepsinhji were the first ones to have put Jamnagar on the cricketing map even though they never played there.
A relic of the Raj, the pavilion at the ground is a Lord’s to many locals. And that includes the coach of the club, Mahendra Singh Chauhan, the man behind Ravindra Jadeja. “He first came here with his father, Anirudhsinh Jadeja, at the age of seven. While we were busy talking, he was all restless watching a match going on here. He wanted to be part of the action. I realised his passion straight away,” reminisces Chauhan.
Notorious for his mischievous antics — be it climbing the wall or running away with goodies from shops — it was a tight slap from Chauhan that did the trick. “I made him play against a senior side in a club match. His first two deliveries went out of the park. He then conceded a boundary and a six. I slapped him in the middle of that over. He took his first five-for in that match, 5/33. Later in the day, I regretted what I did,” Chauhan recalled.
“He is the one I beat the most. But I knew he would be the only one who’d play for India.
Take it from me, he is a bowler first. Batting came second.”
To fix Jadeja’s round-arm action, Chauhan made him bowl over a tall boy stationed in front of the popping crease. There were no plastic cones then and Chauhan resorted to a chappal, which he placed at a good-length spot. Jadeja was asked to land the ball right there. Chauhan’s fondness for Revdee, as he is popularly known, grew so much so that he even walked many miles barefoot to a temple the day Ravindra was named in the ODI squad.
Joggers Park is an eco-friendly colony with buildings constructed in symmetry. Ravindra has moved into a two-bedroom flat there. A black Accent, his first car, sums up his passion. On the rear glass, you’ll find a sticker reading ‘Life is Cricket’ with ‘JADEJA’ below.
His white Audi A4 is never at home. The car, like its owner, is never static. It moves around. The neatly-covered Hayabusa is parked near the watchman’s chair. In the done-up living room, his ODI jersey — crowded with his teammates’ autographs — occupies pride of place. A photograph of his late mother, Lataben Jadeja, hangs on the wall. A glass cabinet holds his trophies and silverware.
“Initially, we ignored his enthusiasm. But soon, we realised his passion. He used to shout ‘pakdo (catch it)’, ‘phekko (throw it)’ in his sleep. That’s when my father took him to Mahendra sir,” says Naina, Ravindra’s elder sister.
His father wanted to see him don the army uniform. But high on cricket, he knew what he had to do. His parents gave in.
“He was too pampered. My mother was his soul, his life. He wouldn’t sleep without her. She would carry his lunch and water bottle to his matches. In spite of our meagre income, she saved money from her hospital job to provide for his expensive kit bag. When she passed away, he was devastated. He suddenly lost interest in everything. I had to step in and play the mother’s role,” says Naina, her eyes moistened eyes and voice choking.
Naina pulled out a couple of old photos of ‘Revdee’. An eight-year-old Ravindra stretching out over the seat of a parked Luna moped, resting his head over his arms and smiling leisurely. The other one had a starry-eyed 14-year-old jostling with other boys to be clicked next to Zaheer Khan. This is the space he wanted to be in.
Safda, about 30 km from Jamnagar, is a sparsely populated area. It’s remotely idyllic and has plenty of farmhouses. A super white duplex with a crimson-coloured slanted roof is a ready clue that someone new has just moved in. RJ, his initials, are engraved on the complex’s boundary walls.
Gunny bags of wheat occupy a corner of the living room, while a plush three-set couch completes the contrast. The ground floor also has a kitchen and bedroom. Upstairs, you have Revdee’s room and a garden swing on the terrace overlooks the entire stretch of farming land.
“He wanted a farmhouse where he could relax. At times, he tried his hand at tilling and ploughing the land. He brings a cook along and enjoys non-vegetarian fare, something he can’t do at home. He rides his horse and a pair of fillies which are at our ancestral village now,” says father Anirudhsinh Jadeja.
He rolled up his trousers to reveal injury marks on his ankle and thigh caused by a bayonet during his days in the army. His career as a soldier was cut short.
“I had a dream of seeing Ravindra in a uniform, as an officer. Arrangements were made to send him to Sainik School, but he chose cricket. I told him to be the best in whatever he did. “Warna na officer ban payega, na cricketer (else, you will neither be an officer nor a cricketer),” the father recalled.
For Jadeja, the jump from a pastoral life to an entrepreneurial one wasn’t difficult. Back to Rajkot’s upmarket Kalawad Road — a swanky restaurant called Jaddu’s Food Field is the go-to joint in town. The entire Indian team visited this eatery on the eve of the ODI against England a couple of months ago.
Built at a cost of Rs 7 crore (plot included), Pradeep, Jadeja’s friend and partner, says, “I always knew there was an entrepreneur lurking in him. He used to talk about opening a restaurant even before he had money. Last year, he said ‘let’s do it’. We managed to open the place on an auspicious day — 12/12/12.”
Call it destiny or sheer willpower, Jadeja has a knack of predicting his future. Much the way he had told his friends he would play for India no matter what. “Tu dekh na agle saal main Test kheloonga (wait and watch, I’ll play Test cricket next year),” he had told Pradeep last year.
Saurashtra coach Debu Mitra concurs. “He came to me and told me I want to play Test cricket. I asked him if he had the mindset or skills. Can you live and behave like a Test player? He said I’m ready but tell me what to do,” Mitra recounted. “He goes crazy if he doesn’t hoick spinners in the nets. I told him to play shots along the ground. It took me four days to instil that habit.”
The result? Two triple tons in a season.
A city which has seen blue-blooded cricketers like Ranjitsinhji, Duleepsinhji and Ajay Jadeja, one can’t resist the package of royalty and cricket intertwined in the psyche of the locals. One can excuse Ravindra for getting influenced by their trappings of royalty. And here is a commoner — no less a royal these days — who figures in all formats of the game. For someone who has the knack of predicting his own future, Jadeja knows best what lies ahead. Will he be known as a millionaire who played bits-and-pieces cricket or a serious player who has made a fortune?
The writer works with ESPN-Star Sports