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Jalaj Saxena: stalwart of First Class cricket

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Jalaj_Saxena_India_Domestic_CricketThe 58th edition of Indian’s premier domestic tournament, the Duleep Trophy, concluded with India Red team emerging victorious. Many have questioned the relevance of this tournament, but for Jalaj Saxena, who represented India Blue, it has been a memorable one. Jalaj completed the astonishing feat of reaching 6,000 runs and scalping 300 wickets in First-Class cricket.

When 19-year-old Jalaj made his Ranji Trophy debut for Madhya Pradesh in 2005, even he wouldn’t have dreamt of achieving this feat. In that match against Kerala, he batted at no. 8 and did not get a wicket. From such beginnings to being a contender for the national team, Jalaj Saxena has come a long way. The journey hasn’t been easy for him but he has overcome all the hardships faced along the way.

“Jelly” as Jalaj Saxena is fondly known, comes from an Indore family with a sporting background. Jalaj’s father was a swimmer, so the son initially tried to pursue swimming in his childhood. However, his elder brother Jatin Saxena inspired him to play cricket. Jatin himself is a brilliant cricketer who now plays First Class cricket for Chhattisgarh. Just like his brother, Jalaj was skilled with both bat & ball.

Jalaj used to play for Cricket Club of Indore, the same club where former Indian cricketer Narendra Hirwani used to play. When Hirwani’s career was winding down, his guidance helped Jalaj become a better spin bowler.

 

Jalaj has always been a team man and always puts team’s interests above the individual’s. He is very flexible in his batting position. He has batted at many different positions: he has opened the innings, played in middle order or in the lower order along with the tail-enders. Being a spinner Jalaj, often bowls more overs than other bowlers.

 

Having scored 6,044 runs, his batting average is over 37 in First Class cricket and he has 14 centuries to his name. With the ball, Jalaj’s numbers are brilliant. 305 wickets at an average of 28 with 17 five wicket hauls.

Yet another feather in his cap during an illustrious career is the achievement of hitting a century and taking 16 wickets in one match. He achieved this feat against Railways when he took 16 wickets for 154 runs. This is the second best bowling figures in the Ranji Trophy after Anil Kumble’s 16 for 99 against Kerala in 1994-95.

Jalaj’s brilliant performances haven’t gone unnoticed. In past four years he received four prestigious BCCI awards- the Lala Amarnath award for being the best all-rounder in Ranji Trophy thrice and the Madhavrao Scindia Award for most wickets in Ranji Trophy season once. While these awards have always boosted Jalaj’s confidence, he is still looking for the reward that matters the most- a call up to the national side.

 

In his quest to prove his worth to selectors, Jalaj took the audacious decision of moving to Kerala from the Madhya Pradesh team. He was doing really well for Madhya Pradesh but he wanted to play for a team placed in the plate group. In the last edition of the Ranji trophy, Jalaj Saxena played a major role in taking Kerala to semi-final of the tournament for the first time in history. He has become such an important part of Kerala’s team that commentators have often said, “If Jalaj Saxena does well, Kerala does well.”

 

Many players who perform well in domestic tournaments get a chance in the IPL, but Jalaj is still waiting for his opportunity. Previously, he was part of the Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore squads, but he didn’t get a chance. Now he is with Delhi Capitals but still waiting for an opportunity. Though he spent most of the time on bench he admits that advice from the Delhi Capitals mentors, Saurav Ganguly and Ricky Ponting, have helped him a lot.

With this achievement of over 6,000 runs and 300 wickets in First Class cricket, Jalaj is now amongst the elite company of 18 other players who have achieved this feat, which includes big names like Polly Umrigar, Lala Amarnath, Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri. The other thing that all these 18 players have in common is that all of them have represented India. This is one of many things that gives Jalaj Saxena hope.

He is still modest and works hard towards achieving his dream. He has been playing for the India A team against South Africa. India have a long season coming up ahead with South Africa and Bangladesh touring India. It will be interesting to see if Jalaj gets a call up for either of these series. For the series against Bangladesh, the selectors might give new players a chance.

Jalaj has peaked at the right time. The 2nd test against Bangladesh will be played at the Holkar Stadium in Indore, which is Jalaj’s home ground. If he gets a chance to debut on his home ground, it will be a dream come true and perhaps the biggest reward for his 14 year-long grind in domestic cricket.



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