Ravindra Jadeja: Left-arm spinner turns things around
The dots balls dried up and boundaries swelled. The lack of pace also meant that his patented leg-stump skidder was easy picking for competent batsmen, who would just wait and paddle it fine. And he overcompensated it by erring too wide outside the off-stump.
Since his comeback, Jadeja has managed to find his ideal ODI pace and has blended it with stifling accuracy, mostly flat and just outside the off-stump against the right-handers. He does occasionally decelerate, but that’s just to keep the batsman guessing.
His bowling graph in the Hyderabad ODI offers a case study of his reworked art. As many as 42 deliveries were bowled between 90 and 99.4 kph, while maintaining an average of 91.3 kph. The slowest he bowled was around 82kmph, which is usually the pace of the skidder or flipper for most spinners.
Also noticeable was his control over line and length, his old characteristics. A cluster of deliveries landed on a spinner’s good-length area on the off-stump or the fourth. The widest he bowled was one delivery perhaps on the fifth stump, but not short enough to cut. The furthest he slid down the leg was on middle-and-leg. All of the 17 deliveries to the left-hander landed just outside or a couple of centimetres. All the same, he hasn’t gone completely flat, but the tossed-up deliveries have become rarer.
Such claustrophobia-inducing bowling makes him incredibly difficult to get away. Jadeja bowled 33 dot balls, a tremendous feat for a spinner plying in the middle overs, and was struck for just two boundaries, both risk-fraught. He didn’t get a wicket, but 33 runs in 10 overs literally strangulated Australia’s ambitions of a 250-plus total.
Since his comeback, he has picked only 16 wickets in 12 games, but managed those with an economy rate 4.62, easily the best among the Indian bowlers in this span. This could serve as his passport for the World Cup as well, though it’s dependent of several factors. Like how many spinners the selectors and management would want (Chahal and Kuldeep have already locked the spots), or if they would consider him as a bowling all-rounder. Or, as Ravi Shastri had recently said, "a couple of spots will depend on whether it’s a 15 or 16 member squad".
That he’s the best fielder in the country would add weightage. But it’s thriftiness that they would weigh the most, and it’s one of missing links of the team. No doubt, the rest like Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Yadav and Chahal have mastery over their craft and are much more of a wicket-taking threat than Jadeja, but none of them can bargain the stinginess of Jadeja. Moreover, the re-calibrated Jadeja is even deadlier, for the batsman knows he has more to his craft that his ODI bearings.
Jadeja says he’s not worried about making the World Cup, but he would acknowledge that the doors to the World Cup, which once seemed shut during the 442-day wilderness, have opened a crack.