He's unlikely to publicly admit it, but Ravindra Jadeja's memory bank must still contain a few recollections of his first international match in London. The manner in which he was received by fans of the Indian cricket team in the global metropolis back in the summer of 2009 and today can be described as something like cricket's equivalent of the distance between the earth and the moon.
On June 14, 2009 at Lord's - six-odd kilometres away from The Oval - as part of India's World Twenty20 team, Jadeja had been booed by fans after struggling to force the pace with the bat as the defending champions crashed out of the tournament against England. This set in motion a period of social media digs that have ceased to relent when it comes to discussions of Jadeja's caliber as an international cricketer. But on June 11, when Jadeja walked up to collect the Man-of-the-Match award after India's eight-wicket win over West Indies, the cheers for his performance from Indian fans at The Oval told a different story.
On Tuesday Jadeja showed London what he was worth in dramatic fashion, returning his best bowling figures as a member of an Indian cricket team - and the best bowling performance by an Indian in the ICC Champions Trophy.
So what was the major difference in the way he bowled in 2009 and today? Honestly, barring the format, nothing. The difference was in the individual's confidence. Jadeja 2.0 has Test success, Ranji Trophy success and IPL success behind him. He has evolved as a player, and now has the support of the team management in ODIs where he is now the first-choice allrounder.
There is nothing magical about his left-arm spin. He idles up to the stumps and lets it out in whippish action, flat and straight. But he's learned how to better contain batsmen, how to use the pitch. His first over was a maiden. In his second he removed Johnson Charles lbw for 60. In his third, Jadeja had Marlon Samuels lbw. In the next, Ramnaresh Sarwan was strangled down the leg side. His first spell (5-1-10-3) had spun West Indies from 103 for 1 in the 20th over to 114 for 4 in 25. It wasn't spectacular; it was honest, accurate and quick left-arm spin. It was thinking out the batsmen.
In Charles' case, Jadeja followed up a floater with a quicker one. The batsmen went back and was a dead duck in front of the stumps. Samuels was pushed back and then brought forward, playing for turn that didn't exist. India have a chequered history with DRS but Jadeja immediately convinced his captain to review a not-out verdict. Samuels was plumb in front. Sarwan, admittedly in a slump, did not know which way the ball was going to move and feathered a catch down the pads. This was the result of Jadeja bowling quick at the stumps, not allowing the batsmen anything to work with.
Called back to bowl at the death, Jadeja picked off Sunil Narine and Ravi Rampaul for his maiden ODI five-wicket haul. The fans roared in appreciation at whatever Jadeja did. He bowled a dot, they clapped. He took a wicket, they cheered. Same for when he slid in the outfield or held Kieron Pollard inside the deep midwicket boundary. Jadeja smiled.
Interestingly, London marked another turning point in Jadeja's career. The last time he played at The Oval, he marked his second coming with a mature performance. Having been sent an SOS call, he landed in England on the eve of the third ODI against the hosts but shrugged aside any possible jet-lag or rustiness by top-scoring with 78 and reviving India from 58 for 5 to 234 for 7, dismissed Craig Kieswetter and Tim Bresnan and flung himself around the infield with gusto.
That match revived Jadeja's ODI career and helped him play 23 ODIs on the trot. He didn't set the world on fire in that period, particularly with the bat, but his bowling and fielding were noteworthy. In five ODIs against England at home, Jadeja finished the leading wicket-taker with 11 at an average of 17 and economy rate of 4.67. In five subsequent ODIs against West Indies, he topped the wickets' list with nine at 23.77, economy 4.36. Just how much Jadeja honed his craft in those ten ODIs only he will know, but progress had been made.
A poor CB Series and Asia Cup saw Jadeja dropped out of the ODI team from March 2012 to January 2013, but since then he has taken 20 wickets in nine ODIs an at average of 13.45 and economy of 3.37. In between, he had a successful Test series against Australia. Now, in two ODIs in England and Wales, he has managed eight wickets. Further success in conditions like this, away from the dustbowls of India, will only further enhance Jadeja's stature and push the memories of London 2009 further into the distance.
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