Whenever he failed to deliver in international cricket, he was the most ridiculed Indian cricketer; when he piled up mammoth scores in domestic cricket (the only Indian cricketer to thump three first-class triple-centuries), his achievements were sneered at. Despite being a part of India's limited-overs team for the last couple of years and doing decently, Ravindra Jadeja seemed the most reviled cricketing figure in India and his credentials as an international cricketer were widely scoffed at and questioned.
Six months back, no one, except himself, would have thought that he would play Test cricket for India. Yuvraj Singh had made a spirited comeback after his rare germ-cell cancer treatment and the red carpet was rolled out to him to mark his return. Yuvraj did well in a couple of T20s and cracked a double-century In Duleep Trophy to earn him selection for the Test against England. But he flattered to deceive once again in the longer format.
There were a lot of strong contenders for the No. 6 spot in India's Test team - Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary and Rohit Sharma - but Jadeja pipped all of them to the post by scoring a couple of timely triple-hundreds - 303* against Gujarat and 331 against Railways - in the Ranji Trophy. Such form prompted his swift selection for the fourth Test against England. Jadeja took just three wickets but most importantly bowled with creditable accuracy conceding just 117 runs in 70 overs.
Come the Test series against Australia and the IPL rock star (a sobriquet given to him by Shane Warne) demonstrated that he has the mettle to perform in white flannels as well. In the first Test, Jadeja was India's most consistent bowler as he landed the ball on the good length with unfailing regularity and snaffled five wickets. He was a perfect foil for R Ashwin, who ran through the visiting side, and kept the Aussie batsmen on their toes. Such was the ferocity of the ball which lurched up and did for Phillip Hughes in the second innings that Michael Clarke said after the match, "You can't do much against the deliveries like these. They're simply unplayable."
In the second Test, Jadeja went a step further. His match figures of 6 for 66 indicate his contribution to India's mammoth victory but what lends sheen to these numbers is that he bowled Clarke in both innings. Clarke has been the sole warrior for Australia and Jadeja paved the way for India's victory by dismissing him twice. In the second innings, the ball curved into Clarke and pitched on middle stump to spin a hint from a good length. Clarke couldn't negotiate the ball which breached his defence and uprooted off stump. Sunil Gavaskar, on air, termed it "the ball of the century".
The admirable thing about Jadeja's performance was that he bowled within his limitations and kept a probing line. There were subtle changes in length but the line was invariably middle and off stump. He let the pitch do the rest and reaped rich dividends. For the first time in his cricketing career, even his harshest detractors are compelled to acknowledge his glittering show. To be fair, this is just the beginning for Jadeja and he will face umpteen challenges, especially when India will tour overseas. But he has shown the glimpse that he has the temperament and skills to belong here.
Another cricketer who wasn't widely considered capable enough for the rigours of Test cricket is Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Though he has been a consistent performer for his state side Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy and did considerably well in the ODI series against Pakistan and England, his skill with the old ball remained disputable and his pace, which hovers around 130kph, was seen as a hindrance. Had it not been injuries to Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, disciplinary notice to Praveen Kumar and the poor form of Zaheer Khan, Bhuvneshwar wouldn't have been selected for this series. A month back, Bhuvneshwar was not even in the reckoning for a place in the Test side after MS Dhoni asserted that Bhuvneshwar need to learn more skills in order to become a Test bowler.
In the first Test, Bhuvneshwar sent down just 13 overs; he didn't get a chance to bowl in the second. But in the second Test, he justified the faith the selectors had reposed in him by nipping out three top-order wickets. On a wicket which wasn't conducive for swing or pace, he managed to move the ball both ways. He nailed Ed Cowan and David Warner with inswingers after setting them up with a string of deliveries which nipped away. Shane Watson was deceived by the length and was trapped in front of thr wickets trying to pull the ball which cut back and kept low. He troubled Clarke on more than one occasion and set the momentum for India.
Bhuvneshwar bowled a nagging spell in the second innings as well and would have removed Cowan had Dhoni not spilled a simple catch. But Bhuvneshwar bowled with gusto and exhibited astute thinking to fox the batsmen. His kind of bowling is likely to prove more lethal in helpful seaming conditions. Dhoni acknowledged his contribution in the post-match presentation by saying, "It was important to get off to a good start and Bhuvneshwar provided that. You don't expect the pacers to take a lot of wickets in conditions like these but he bowled good lines."
It was a heartening to see two cricketers who were not considered worthy of Test cricket proving the critics wrong and contributing immensely to team's splendid victory.
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