It is difficult not to be overawed with the subtleness in the art of spin bowling. With little tweaks in the mere handling of it, the bowlers have performed wonders with the piece of leather. In the first Test between India and South Africa, star spinner Ravichandran Ashwin stunned centurion Quinton de Kock with a brilliant setup – two deliveries which turned away from the left-hander, followed by the one which didn’t. Throughout the game, he picked up eight wickets and went on to equal Sri Lanka great Muttiah Muralitharan to become the fastest to 350 wickets in the longest format.
In the game’s modern-day history, there have been great spin bowlers with a plethora of skills in their armour. Shane Warne never relied only on his leg-break; he had the drifter. Saqlain Mushtaq brought the doosra, and Muralitharan could turn the ball on literally any surface. Ashwin, too, brings with himself a touch of unpredictability from time to time. He would throw around a leg-spin at random, and play mind-games at times – on the final day of the 1st Test, he ran from between the umpire and the wickets to bowl over the wicket to Dane Piedt, who had put on a brave shift alongside Senuran Muthusamy for the 9th wicket then.
It is probably for this reason that a spin bowler like Ravindra Jadeja often remains in the shadows. Jadeja is not the greatest turner of the ball, nor is he ever inclined towards experimentation and unconventional methods. Unlike most spinners, he doesn’t play along in the air as well. On the contrary, the Saurashtra spinner bowls as if it is a game of darts.
Yet, Jadeja has emerged as one of the key parts in the Indian playing XI in the whites over the years. He took four wickets in the final innings of the first Test against South Africa – including three in an over, to aid India to a comprehensive victory. He also steered to the 200-wicket mark during the Test, becoming the fastest left-arm bowler to reach the figure. In overseas Tests, Jadeja is the first-choice spinner, and has performed impressively throughout.
No turn? No problem
On the final day of the South Africa Test, Ravindra Jadeja followed-up after Mohammed Shami’s incredible bowling spell. The Proteas were on backfoot, and Ravichandran Ashwin had been exploiting the turn on offer. As with most wickets on the fifth day, the bounce had been reasonably low and enticing the batsmen with length balls and fuller ones was a strategy adopted by Jadeja’s spin compatriot, Ashwin. For Jadeja, though, tweaking with tactics has almost always been a no-no.
Jadeja understands his craft and realizes its limitations just as well. The conditions in the game may vouch for ripping the turn off the track, but Jadeja knows that the straighter ones – the ones which skid off the pitch and catch the batsmen off-guard with inside-edges and leg-befores can do the damage with similar effect. And so Jadeja rolls his sleeves and begins the carnage on a surface where he’s a beast. Going in for the rough, Jadeja was able to deceive the Saffers one-by-one. It isn’t the bowling style he tweaks with. Marginal change in grips and speeds; that’s all he eyes for.
His first wicket of Day 5 put a seeming end to South Africa’s chances of salvaging a draw, for it was Aiden Markram’s – the last proper batsman remaining in the team. The wicket also summarized Jadeja’s mode of operation – both, as a bowler and as a fielder. The length was fuller, and Markram could’ve even got the outcome he desired only if Jadeja didn’t stick with pace. The ball skidded in and Markram was left nonplussed with the way it travelled straight to the bottom of his bat. Next, we saw Ravindra Jadeja – the fielder. The dismissal was a testament to his fitness levels, for he made an incredible leap on his left to take a one-handed catch.
Such little variations are also the reason Jadeja is often the most trusted of Virat Kohli’s men to break agonizing partnerships. In the first innings, Jadeja ended the 165-run partnership between Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock, dismissing the former with a similar variation in pace. Elgar was also his 200th Test wicket. According to Wisden, his speed throughout the over ranged from 88kph to 95kph.
Of course, Jadeja is not in the team only on his bowling merit. His batting has improved tremendously over the last two years. He has a batting average of 50.44 in nine Test matches, scoring 454 runs which include a hundred against West Indies in Rajkot. In addition, he scored half-centuries in England, Australia and West Indies. His fielding skills are arguably the best in the world, and the combination of the two was one of the primary reasons behind his comeback in the limited-overs formats.
Ravindra Jadeja’s invaluable contribution in key bits of the game helps the team in shredding the opponents apart to pieces. His reputation continues to grow with every match he plays, and it is no surprise that he is considered indispensable.