Braving crests and troughs with aplomb, Ravindra Jadeja has emerged as a fine bowling allrounder in Indian conditions.
R Ashwin bagged the Man-of-the-Series award against Australia for his 29 wickets in four Tests while Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay scored over 400 runs to help India script a historic 4-0 whitewash, but the man whose superlative performances took people by surprise is Ravindra Jadeja.
Jadeja was the most consistent and accurate bowler during the series on either side, dangling his left-arm spin with surgical precision. He pushed the ball quick through the air and landed it unerringly on just short of a good length in line with middle and off stump. Crucially, he refrained from experimenting too much and let the crumbling pitches do their bit.
The 24-year-old nailed 24 wickets at an average of 17.45 with a brilliant strike-rate of 48.3, both of which are better than this offspin counterpart Ashwin. An economy rate of 2.16 indicates that Jadeja strangled the Australian batsmen for runs and kept a tight noose around their necks.
His selection over another left-arm spinner, Pragyan Ojha, who was India's highest wicket-taker in the Test series against England, in the playing XI for the Chennai and Hyderabad Tests was largely frowned upon but he proved his detractors wrong and justified his captain's faith in his abilities by rising to the occasion. Harbhajan Singh looked completely out-of-sorts in the first two Tests of the series and came a cropper, while Jadeja filled the void appreciably and played a perfect foil to Ashwin to demolish the opposition.
At times, he produced unplayable deliveries. Phillip Hughes fell to a ripper in the second innings of the first Test as the ball exploded from a good length outside the off and spun sharply into him with a steep bounce. Hughes tried to sway away but ended up giving a simple catch to first slip.
Jadeja also bowled, arguably, the best ball of the series which bamboozled Michael Clarke. In the second innings in Hyderabad, he got a delivery to curve into Clarke after pitching on middle stump. Clarke prodded forward but couldn't negotiate as the delivery spun past the bat and uprooted off stump. Sunil Gavaskar, on air, termed it "the ball of the century". In fact, Jadeja was Clarke's sworn nemesis throughout the series, dismissing him five out of six times. The Australian skipper was the only batsman who played spin with assurance, but was reduced to becoming Jadeja's bunny.
On the flip side, Jadeja's batting was very average barring a brisk 43 in India's first innings in Delhi, which contributed, along with seven wickets, to him earning the Man-of-the-Match award. It is interesting to note that it was his timely triple-hundreds - 303* against Gujarat and 331 against Railways - in the Ranji Trophy which prompted his swift selection into the Test squad. He became the first Indian to notch up three triple-centuries in first-class cricket and was drafted into the Test team as a batting allrounder but it was with the ball that he weaved the magic to own the Australian batsmen.
Jadeja was tagged 'Rockstar' by Shane Warne, who led Rajasthan Royals to the 2008 IPL title. The victory pushed Jadeja into the limelight and he was soon picked for India's Twenty20 and ODI teams. Though his performances in international cricket, IPL and the domestic circuit were fine, if not outstanding, he failed to live up to his enviable tag and became the butt of nasty jokes on social media. He grabbed the headlines again when he was bought by Chennai Super Kings for a whopping two million during the 2012 IPL auction and received another title, that of 'Million Dollar Baby'.
Many wondered, and even mocked, at the jaw-dropping amount that CSK were willing to spend on Jadeja. He became an object of more ridicule after a very ordinary IPL 5. During all the ups and downs, Jadeja received an unswerving backing from MS Dhoni which was often questioned.
For now, Jadeja has silenced his critics but needs to address a few things before the knives are drawn again. His style of bowling is perfectly suitable to dry and dusty Indian pitches but it is apparent that his left-arm spin will not yield the same results when India go overseas. Also, his batting remains unconvincing in Tests. If Jadeja aspires to hold his place in the team as an allrounder, he must upgrade skills and mould himself into a utility cricketer capable of making substantial contribution in all conditions.