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Ravindra Jadeja finds his mojo as Test batsman


Ravindra_Jadeja_India_Test_CricketBeing Ravindra Jadeja is no easy task. With the reputation of being a more than handy all-rounder who has made three first-class triple hundreds and bucket loads of runs in domestic cricket, Jadeja was expected to come in with a characteristic swagger and take charge of India's middle-order.

Yet, five years after his International debut in 2009, Jadeja had just one half-century in Test cricket after 16 Tests. Then, at Lord's, when he did cross the half-century mark for the first time in 2014, the Saurashtra all-rounder swung his bat about like a warrior. The sword celebrations find a special place in Jadeja's Test career but in terms of sheer volume of such celebrations, the number was still below par until a change came about.

Till 2017, Jadeja's contributions to the side remained strictly that of a bowler who could wield the willow occasionally. Even when he thwarted an English attack in their backyard at the Mecca of cricket in 2014, the follow up knocks failed to impress.

2015 passed by with no half-centuries but 2016 saw three of them, including a 90 against England at Mohali. The batting had become more stable, if anything, but Ravichandran Ashwin was grabbing headlines around the same time for his batting exploits and would occupy the no. 6 position in the line-up.

It was pretty much safe to assume that Jadeja's role was largely that of a sidekick who would get some wickets, hold one end up and produce the odd good knock with the bat. Even if he made two half-centuries in that England series at home and a half-century against New Zealand earlier that year, Jadeja the batsman wasn't yet a thing that demanded attention.

The change came in 2017. What was just a mere suspicion in 2016 bore fruition in 2017 as Jadeja slammed four half-centuries. He began the year with a 60* against Bangladesh at Hyderabad and went on to make an unbeaten 54* and a 63 against Australia in successive knocks at Ranchi and Dharamsala.

Even if he got into an ugly spat with Matthew Wade at Dharamsala, Jadeja showcased his full all-round potential with aplomb. The 2016-17 season was a memorable one for him and he picked up 500 runs and 50 wickets in the season, only the third cricketer ever to do so at the time. He had even risen to no.3 in ICC's all-rounder rankings at the time.

As though to show the rise was no mere fluke, Jadeja's six half-centuries in the season equalled that of Cheteshwar Pujara. His 21 sixes in the season was an Indian record at the time. At Colombo, later in 2017, Jadeja composed yet another fantastic knock - an attacking 70* from 85 balls as India looked to set up declaration.

However, close on Jadeja's heels even then was Ashwin, who himself notched up a half-century. Ashwin went on to pick up a five-wicket haul too to surge ahead in the spinning all-rounder's race but Jadeja pulled things back as Sri Lanka fought back through Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis. He snaffled the big wicket of Karunaratne and went on to take five in the innings to walk away with the Man of the Match award.

The match was perhaps a turning point of sorts in the race between Jadeja and Ashwin. Jadeja took one step further when he displaced Ashwin mid-way through the series against England last year. At the Oval, Jadeja once again wielded his willow with panache and cracked an unbeaten 86*, an innings where he selectively channelled his aggression and produced a controlled batting display.

The performances continued to surge as he knocked off a maiden Test ton against the Windies in the home series in October at Rajkot. The 100* off 132 balls came at his home ground and for once, Jadeja seemed like the domestic batsman he had been.

The form continued in the Caribbean as he composed a fine half-century by rallying the tail at Antigua in the first Test. With Ishant Sharma for company, Jadeja lifted India from a precarious 207/7 - when the last recognised batsman was dismissed - to 297, making 58 in 112 balls in the process.

Jadeja's exploits with the bat since 2017 merit better treatment in the batting order. Till 2017, Jadeja had an average of 26.5 in Tests with just four half-centuries, three of which came in 2016 alone. Since 2017, though, Jadeja has been a beast with the bat and the management has recognised that by rewarding him a place ahead of Ashwin.

Since 2017, Jadeja averages a whopping 46.4 with the bat and has made a century and seven half-centuries. From positions 7-9, Jadeja has made 669 runs at an average of 51.46 in this time frame. For batsman with over 300 runs from positions 7-11 since 2017, Jadeja's average is the best. He surpasses names like Jason Holder, Quinton de Kock, Tim Paine, Kusal Perera, Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler in terms of batting average.

The batting resurgence is unmistakable and, for once, his name on the team sheet ahead of Ashwin’s isn't raising as many questions. He has continued to excel in his main trade as a spinner but the effective sidekick job as a lower order saviour has made him a crowd favourite in Test cricket.

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