He is the premier all-rounder across formats for India today and amongst the best in the world in Test cricket. He was in fine form in both the 2020 and 2021 editions of the IPL and will be one of India’s biggest trump cards in the final of the World Test Championship starting in Southampton on the 18th of June and the five-Test series against hosts England from August. But it was not too long ago, when Ravindra Jadeja was out of form, low on confidence and finding ways to get back to the Indian unit.
THE DARK AGES
India played 14 Tests, 35 ODIs and 24 T20Is in the 18 month period between April 2017 and September 2018 (till the last Test against England at the Oval). Most of these matches were played overseas with India touring Sri Lanka, South Africa, the Caribbean and England in this time-frame. They played as many as 10 Tests, 19 ODIs and 12 T20Is away from home in this period.
While R Ashwin and Jadeja were still the biggest match-winners with the ball for India at home in the longer format, barring the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in 2017 and the one-off match against Afghanistan in Bengaluru, the rest of the matches were overseas which meant that only one of them could make it to the XI. The off spinner, being the senior partner and India’s premier slow bowler got the nod ahead of Jadeja and played in 13 of the 14 Tests during this period while Jadeja just got his chances in six.
While Jadeja gave a good account of himself with the ball in these encounters picking 29 wickets at an average of 23.03 and strike rate of 49.2, it was his batting which was letting him down - the left-hander scored just 145 runs in 7 innings with a solitary fifty during this period. He failed in 4 of these 7 innings.
The story was far worse in the limited-overs’ format.
Jadeja and Ashwin, both, were out of favour with the selectors after a poor show with the ball in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy against Pakistan in Birmingham in June, 2017. Ashin was hammered for 70 in his 10 overs while Jadeja was taken for 67 in 8. India were thrashed by 180 runs and the performance of their spinners met with a lot of criticism back home. Subsequently, the rise of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav - the two wrist spinners - who were seen as more attacking options in the middle overs - meant that the left-arm orthodox and off-spinner were out of reckoning from both ODIs and T20Is.
Jadeja represented India in just 7 ODIs (out of a possible 35) and a solitary T20I (out of a maximum 24) during this period. He hardly got an opportunity to bat in these ODI matches and bagged just 4 wickets in 7 matches at an economy rate of 5.22 with the ball. Chahal and Kuldeep firmly established themselves as match-winners with the ball in the limited over formats and were instrumental in India’s success in this period.
This added to the uncertainty of Jadeja’s future with India. Out of the limited overs’ formats, it was only a matter of time, when India chose one of the wrist spinners as the second option to Ashwin in Tests at home too.
It was the worst phase of the all-rounders career. Jadeja did not play a single match for India from December, 2017 till the one-off against Afghanistan in June, 2018. He was again not considered for the limited overs’ series in England and was out of the XI for the first four Tests too.
Till it all changed at The Oval in September, 2018.
THE OVAL, SEPTEMBER 2018
Jadeja was included in the XI for the fifth and final Test against England at The Oval and returned with 4 big wickets in the first innings. He then came out to bat at 160 for 6 and hammered an unbeaten 86 including 11 fours and a six top-scoring for India in the innings. Jadeja bagged three more wickets in the second innings and returned with his best bowling figures outside Asia.
This fine all-round show changed Jadeja and led to massive transformation across formats. The renaissance change was seen in his batting - Jadeja became a destructive hitter capable of producing match-defining knocks from the lower order.
Jadeja - the Test batsman has seen a metamorphic change in fortunes since Oval, 2018. He has scored 758 runs in 15 matches (20 innings) at a stunning average of 58.3 - it is the second-highest batting average for an Indian batsman (min. 700 runs) in this time-frame only marginally behind Rohit Sharma. This means that Jadeja has a higher average in this period than Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane amongst others!
Jadeja recorded his maiden Test hundred against the West Indies in Rajkot in 2018, scored a quickfire 81 against Australia at the SCG in 2019 and was involved in a match-changing and series-transforming century stand with Rahane in the historic MCG Test of 2020 (scoring 57).
His bowling strike rate in ODI’s improved to a wicket-a-match in this period and he stuck to his quintessential qualities of restricting the opposition batsmen in the shorter formats with an economy rate of 5.01 and 6.25 in the 50-over and 20-over formats for India.
Jadeja produced two of his finest batting performances in ODI cricket during this period too - he blasted 77 off 59 balls giving New Zealand a real scare in the semi-final of the ICC World Cup in Manchester in 2019 before smashing 66 off 50 deliveries against Australia in Canberra.
Jadeja also excelled in his new-found role as ‘finisher’ in the T20 format for India and also for his IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings both in IPL 2020 and 2021. Batting at number 7, he hammered an unbeaten 44 off just 23 balls against Australia again in Canberra in 2020 before launching an offensive against the bowler of the season Harshal Patel in CSK’s clash against the Challengers in April 2021 - Jadeja heaved him for five sixes in an over taking 37 of the last over of the CSK innings.
As things stand today, Jadeja is one of the most sought-after all-rounders across formats in international cricket - a restrictive wicket-taker with the ball controlling the middle-overs and a genuine destructive threat with the bat in the lower-order.
He has bit by bit, put the pieces together and from a ‘bits and pieces’ cricketer transformed himself into a world-class all-rounder capable of winning the match either with the bat or ball.
It all started at The Oval in the fall of 2018!