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Kedar Jadhav shines with the ball

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Kedar_Jadhav_India_Cricket“If I just bowl a few overs at the nets before a game. If I throw in more deliveries and try to become a bowler, I will lose my touch.”

Speaking after an inspired spell of bowling in the group stage game against Pakistan, where Kedar Jadhav sent down 9 overs after the unfortunate injury to Hardik Pandya, a huge uproar followed the 33-year-old’s comments at the post-match press conference.

It was not because the player was trying to be modest about the 3 wickets that he had taken in the game, but rather, it was a clever way of stating that Jadhav did not view himself as a serious bowler.

With Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni flummoxed by his bowling technique (or rather, the lack of it), the mystery over his success with the ball in ODIs still looms.

He is referred to as an off-spinner; he has a short run-up similar to that of an off-spinner as well. He walks a few steps before delivering the ball, pauses for a bit, and then proceeds to bowl either a slinging round arm-ball or an over-arm ball. However, instead of the ball spinning either way, it often goes as straight as possible, and these straighter deliveries is what causes doubts in the minds of the batsmen. With the rivals expecting a spinning delivery, the batsman prepares to play for the turn, but with Jadhav sending down straight deliveries at a stump-to-stump line, they are often found wanting of width at unforgiving angles.

19 wickets in 43 games might not be numbers that scream out champion, but Jadhav has risen to the occasion when the situation has needed him.

In 2016, at Dharamshala against New Zealand, then-skipper MS Dhoni handed him the ball to ease the pressure on India’s fifth bowler, Hardik Pandya. It proved to be a masterstroke as the player from Pune returned with 2 wickets in 3 overs.

 

“It is important that someone in the top 5-6 gives you some overs so that there’s no pressure on Hardik to complete his 10”, Dhoni had stated. Since then, Jadhav has been shouldering the responsibility of bowling tight overs consistently, allowing the team to stick with their preferred combination of six batsmen and four front line bowlers, with an all-rounder: either Ravindra Jadeja or Pandya.

 

Though Jadhav’s role has considerably reduced with the return of Jadeja, who has made a phenomenal comeback to ODI cricket, it is improbable that the Indian squad will play three spinners in Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Jadeja when they tour abroad, or even in the upcoming World Cup. With Jadhav, the team will be loaded with 4 slow bowlers - a risk the Indian management would be unwilling to take. Thus, in all likelihood, Pandya the seam bowler will hold on to his spot, with Virat Kohli going in with two spinners. The responsibility on Jadhav will then increase.

Pandya averages 40.95 with the cherry after 42 games, so the pressure was immense on the other full-time bowlers to bowl an unerring line and length. This rarely allowed breathing space for the bowlers, and if a specialist was leaking runs, it often spelt doom for India. With Chahal and Kuldeep going for a few runs in their quest for wickets, Pandya’s economy of 5.55 made him a liability in the bowling department.

Often, Kohli would be searching for bowlers to complete Pandya’s quota of overs, with the skipper himself taking the ball last year at The Oval after an interval of more than 18 months, after Pandya had been clobbered for more than 6 runs an over against Sri Lanka.

Pandya has bowled his quota of overs only 11 times in 42 games. The last time he completed his overs was against England at London this year, where he went for 70 runs. With Jadhav not in the team at the time due to an injury, and with Siddharth Kaul going for 7.37 runs in 8 overs as well, a desperate situation loomed over the Indian camp.

Though Suresh Raina did bowl in that particular game, the fact that he is no longer in contention for a national berth implied that the fifth bowling slot could have been a huge headache for Kohli in the upcoming months. With none of the other top-5 batsmen in the squad turning their arm over - Rohit Sharma last bowled in January 2016 - the issues seemed manifold, but this is where Jadhav came to the rescue.

Against Pakistan in the league game of the Asia Cup, a stern test awaited him after Pandya was wheeled out after bowling just 4.5 overs. Jadhav now had to bowl at least 5 overs, whilst looking to keep the runs in check. Shoaib Malik had settled down nicely at the crease when Jadhav came on to bowl. The responsibility of not allowing a partnership to flourish fell on his shoulders. What transpired next was a surprise, and could have gone a long way in answering India’s conundrums.

Bowling 9 overs on the trot - only once had Jadhav bowled as many overs in ODIs - he conceded just 23 runs with 34 dot balls, whilst also picking up 3 wickets. By bowling on the trot, he ensured the Men in Green were unable to build a foundation. Each time they threatened to go big, Jadhav, with his bowling not giving them any width, struck.

To go with his bowling exploits, a batting average of 41.30 with a strike-rate of 108.82 conveys the indispensability of Jadhav.

There will be moments when the opposition will be successful in reading his variations, but if he sticks to the basics, he could prove more than handy in the middle-overs, especially when India tours overseas.

 

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