Unsung hero Jadeja key to India's success at World Cup
Jadeja might not be picking wickets in heaps but he certainly could be the one who can break partnerships and keep the team in the hunt.
COLOMBO: Despite being reduced to 99/6, Sri Lanka were still in the reckoning in their Asia Cup Super Four match against India at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Tuesday. Dhananjaya de Silva and young Dunith Wellalage had added 63 runs for the seventh wicket giving hopes to hundreds of Sri Lankan fans. From there on, the co-hosts needed 52 runs from more than 12 overs to win their second straight match and go atop the points table.
With the duo seemingly running away with the match, India skipper Rohit Sharma called back left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. It was the 36th over of the innings. Before that, Jadeja had bowled seven overs and grabbed the important wicket of Dasun Shanaka, the Sri Lankan captain. His first over on return cost two runs but he struck in the third ball of his next over to send back the experienced Dhananjaya. The Saurashtra tweaker tossed up the delivery, luring the right-hand Sri Lankan batter to go after it. Dhananjaya tried to loft it over mid-on but couldn't clear Shubman Gill, who jumped to take it overhead sending the boisterous crowd into silence.
The wicket once again started the slide as Sri Lanka was bowled out for 142 in the next four overs to give India an easy passage into the final of the 2023 Asia Cup. Wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav along with Hardik Pandya then wrapped up by polishing the tail.
Kuldeep might have walked away with four wickets and the performance matters especially after his five-wicket haul against Pakistan in the previous match. But it was Jadeja, who broke multiple partnerships. It first happened when Shanaka was steering the ship with Dhananjaya. Rohit summoned Jadeja and he immediately delivered the result off his first ball in the 26th over. Given the length of the ball, Shanaka came half forward to push the ball towards the covers only to edge it to slip where Rohit took a low catch. It again happened when Jadeja ended Dhananjaya's heroics. His departure left 20-year-old Wellalage alone. Expecting him to play with tail-enders was too much to ask for. The youngster certainly will become a match-winner for his team in time to come but it was under Dhananjaya's guidance he was rotating strike to bring Sri Lanka closer to the target.
What makes Jadeja's role more important is the fact that the pitch had eased out a bit after helping the spinners in the first innings. Rohit also admitted the fact during the post-match presentation when he said, "It was a good game. For us also to play a game like that under pressure. Challenged a lot of aspects of our game. We definitely want to play on pitches like this to see what we can achieve. The pitch got slightly better towards the end so we had to hold our nerves and bowl consistently."
The last two years have not been so productive for Jadeja. He played only three ODIs last year before getting injured in the Asia Cup, which was played in the T20 format. He underwent knee surgery and went to the National Cricket Academy for rehabilitation. He returned to action in January this year when he played a Ranji Trophy match for Saurashtra against Tamil Nadu.
This year also, he has played 10 matches so far picking up as many wickets at an average of 26.90. With the willow, his performance has not been that impressive as he has scored 131 runs with an average of 26.20. His highest during this period was an unbeaten 45 against Australia. Despite the modest show, his more than 14 years of experience in limited-overs cricket means Jadeja holds the key for India with the ODI World Cup in the offing. He has played 181 ODIs so far claiming 199 wickets and accumulating 2578 runs.
What keeps him apart from other spinners is his ability to bowl well even on flat tracks which he apparently has learnt at his home grounds in Saurashtra. His ability to vary his speed also makes him a dangerous customer to deal with and the same was to the fore when he tossed the ball up to Dhananjaya.
Jadeja might not be picking wickets in heaps but he certainly could be the one who can break partnerships and keep the team in the hunt. And he needs to display this skill in abundance if the Men in Blue wish to win the World Cup trophy at home like they did in 2011 under the captaincy of MS Dhoni.