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Why Ravindra Jadeja needs to be taken seriously as a Test match player

Monday, 30 December 2013 - 2:51pm IST | Agency: CricketCountry.com
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Ravindra Jadeja’s excellent spell on Saturday has turned out to be a face-saver for India in the second Test against South Africa at Durban. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at why Jadeja needs to be taken more seriously as a Test match player.

Ravindra Jadeja was the topic of ridicule yet again when he was dismissed for a duck yet again in the first innings at Kingsmead. With a First-Class average of over 50 (with three triple-hundreds), he has already been classified by armchair experts as a domestic champion or, at best, a limited-overs cricketer.

His inclusion has often been the topic of scorn despite, even in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), where he has averaged 30.74 with the bat and 32.21 with the ball and an economy rate of 4.72. The numbers are quite impressive, but for whatever reason, he is never taken as seriously as he should have been — despite the fact that he is the sixth-ranked bowler and fifth-ranked all-rounder in the current ICC ODIs ratings.

To the defence of the critics, it can safely be said that in his seven Test innings Jadeja has scored 97 at 16.17, which is hardly confidence-arousing. The numbers are probably misleading: Jadeja definitely had a poor start to his career, but in his previous Test, Jadeja had actually played a Test-defining performance.

After Australia had scored 262, Nathan Lyon had reduced India to 180 for five from 108 without loss. Jadeja then decided to counterattack, scoring 43 in 49 balls — out of a total of 74 during his stay. India managed a ten-run lead before and Jadeja took a five-wicket spell to spin India to victory. There has been one failure after that, and the knives have been out.

What the Indian supporters possibly need to do is to look at Jadeja as a bowling all-rounder. India can afford to pick only one spinner while playing overseas on unhelpful tracks, and Jadeja has to compete with Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.

The question lies: Are Ashwin and Ojha indeed better bowers than Jadeja, even in Tests? Let us first have a look at the raw numbers: Ashwin’s 104 wickets have come at the price of 28.50 wickets apiece while Ojha’s 113 have come at 30.26. The economy rates of 2.90 and 2.68 are somewhat impressive.

The overseas numbers do not make good reading, though. Let us have a look:

Overseas records T Wkts Ave SR Econ
Ravichandran Ashwin 4 9 74.77 140.0 3.20
Pragyan Ojha 4 12 53.41 101.0 3.17

These numbers certainly do not make pleasant reading. Ashwin’s batting, of course, makes up for a lot (he averages 30.16 even overseas, including a counterattacking 62 at Sydney, but we’re discussing a fourth bowler and the ace spinner here; not the fifth bowler or the second spinner. Batting cannot be a reason to pick him.

On green and/or bouncy tracks (which is something most nations invariably try to prepare for the Indians), India invariably includes three seamers; what they need is a spinner who can play the foil, cutting the runs down, relying more on accuracy than anything else.

This is where Jadeja triumphs over the aggressive Ojha or the experimenting Ashwin. Jadeja does not try to do different things; he sticks to the basics. He bowls the you-miss-I-hit line and length, which can suffocate batsmen. If the batsmen get going, he would dry up the runs; if wickets fall, he would help tighten the noose.

A look back at his four wickets in the South African first innings on Saturday will make it clear why Jadeja has done so well (37-9-87-4 are excellent figures for an Indian spinner overseas; additionally, he has conceded 2.35 runs per over while the others have given away 3.13 between themselves to pick up a solitary wicket).

How did the wickets happen? Jadeja did a brilliant job to choke Graeme Smith, who scored four runs in the first 20 balls he had faced from Jadeja. Then Smith’s patience gave way in the 21st: he decided to clear mid-on and was caught by Shikhar Dhawan.

Alviro Petersen had managed to dominate Jadeja somewhat, taking him for four boundaries. Jadeja, however, kept on bowling his darts that either did not turn or turned marginally. One of these turned slightly more than the others, bounced a bit higher than expected, and the ball hit the shoulder of the bat and flew to slip. The perseverance had paid off.

There was a partnership thereafter, but Jadeja persevered with his straight, accurate bowling. In his 25th over he sucked a set AB de Villiers into playing forward; the ball was flat, but finally one of them turned more than the others: the ball kissed de Villiers’ outside edge and flew to first slip.

JP Duminy fell next: he made the error of going back to a Jadeja dart and play across the line; the ball hit him on the pads and he was trapped plumb. For the fourth time a batsman had fallen victim to Jadeja’s simple persistence: bowl straight, length, flat, and wait for the odd ball to drift, turn, or bounce, or maybe two or all three of these.

Jacques Kallis looked determined and confident at the other end in what might well be his final outing with the bat, but once again it was Jadeja who had stopped him from getting away: he could manage only 28 balls from the 94 Jadeja bowled at him.

It is too early to comment, but one can at least say that Jadeja has had a better start overseas than India’s lead spinners. Of the three, he is the one who knows exactly what is expected of the only spinner in an overseas Test —nothing more, nothing less. He probably deserves an extended run as India’s ace spinner, especially overseas.

Still remaining on the same topic, Jadeja’s career records read 31 wickets (this is his sixth Tests) at 20.09 with an economy rate of 2.07. He has never taken less than three wickets or has conceded more than 2.40 runs an over in an innings. Why not pick him as the lead spinner at home as well?

Who knows, if the batting improves with time (as it most likely will) he might turn out to be the all-rounder India has been looking for. While Ashwin has played some outstanding innings (and has done them in style, too) there can be no doubt that Jadeja at least has the tenacity to bat for hours. Diligence, after all, is what Jadeja’s cricket is all about.

Once he does that, the critics would probably be silenced for good. It may take some time, but investing in him may well be worth it.

Read more here — Jacques Kallis retires from Test and First-Class cricket

Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42

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