Ravi Jadeja has played 32 Test matches, taken 155 wickets giving away an average of 23 runs per hapless victim. He is ranked the No.1 Test bowler in the world right now. And just to stamp his importance to Virat Kohli’s all conquering Test team, he also boasts a batting average of 30 coming in regularly at No.8.
He is Ravindrasinh Anuradhsinh Jadeja, descendant of a family boasting generations of warriors. A fact that has not been lost on every team that has had the misfortune of coming up against him over the past year or so.
From nowhere, Jadeja has magically produced unplayable deliveries that have brought breakthroughs when nothing seemed to be going India’s way. And once he strikes, he quickly becomes dangerously penetrative. One wicket often becomes five. Nine five wicket hauls in 32 Tests is testimony to his abilities.
In March 2017, Jadeja joined Ravichandran Ashwin at No.1 in the ICC rankings for Test bowlers in what is the first instance of two spinners jointly claiming the top spot. He then bumped Ashwin off the pedestal and claimed sole right to remain in that position, where he still remains. Not bad for a man who even a year or so ago was labeled a specialist of the shorter formats of the game and struggled to make the Test team.
So exactly how good has his career been thus far?
Only 5 spinners in the history of Test cricket have made their way to a 150 wicket haul faster than Jadeja – Sydney Barnes, Clarrie Grimmett, Saeed Ajmal, Shane Warne and Ravi Ashwin. That is not a list to be scoffed at.
However no left arm bowler has got there faster. After 32 Tests, Jadeja sits on top of an illustrious list of left arm bowlers that has Mitchell Johnson languishing just below him, having achieved the feat in 34 Tests.
The next target is clearly the 200 wicket mark. Sitting atop the record books here as the fastest to reach the mark are Clarrie Grimmett and Ravi Ashwin in 36 and 37 Tests respectively. While it is inconceivable that Jadeja will make it to this mark in the next 5 or 6 Tests, given the rich vein of form he is displaying, he can certainly dream of getting to 200 faster than the next two spinners on that list, Stuart McGill and Shane Warner who took 41 and 42 Tests to reach the mark respectively.
It is worth looking at what has changed in the last year or so when his Test career, languishing after a promising start in 2012, has changed trajectory.
Karthik Krishnaswamy, writing in ESPN Cricinfo earlier this year, brought out some interesting thoughts: “Jadeja now looks more threatening on flat pitches than he used to, his changes of pace and trajectory keeping batsmen vigilant at all times where his earlier, metronomic style could occasionally bowl them into a rhythm. Now, if he sees a batsman negotiating him largely off the back foot, he’ll aim a round-arm dart at his pads. Or if a batsman is defending him off the front foot with his pad next to the line of the ball, wary of the threat of lbw, he’ll toss one up slower and wider. Sometimes, this may bring immediate results – think Jonny Bairstow scooping a catch to short cover in the first innings in Chennai. At other times, a batsman may simply slice the ball to backward point, off the outside half of his bat, then start bringing his front leg further across in defence, leading to an lbw further down the line.”
Krishnaswamy goes on to draw an interesting conclusion: “What changed between his 16th Test against South Africa in Delhi and his 17th in St Lucia eight months later? One thing did change: India hired a new coach, and that man, Anil Kumble, had a career of two distinct halves. In the first half, he was a fast, non-turning legspinner who speared the ball into the stumps and let the pitch do the rest. In the second, he began flighting the ball more, varied his pace more frequently, and tasted far more success overseas. Jadeja could well be taking the first few steps of a similar journey.”
That is a very interesting point indeed. While Kumble is not at the helm of affairs anymore following a bitter public fallout with Kohli, the man who has replaced him is not only an astute strategist, but in his playing days, Ravi Shastri was also a similar left arm spinner to Jadeja. In an interesting parallel, Jadeja’s recent success as a batsman in addition to his penetrative bowling, is actually a virtual replay of how Shastri’s own career evolved.
So what will be the next target?
Jadeja’s partner in crime Ashwin just became the fastest to reach the double of 2000 Test runs and 250 wickets in his 51st match. With 19 Tests to go and Jadeja looking to up the ante in both his bowling and batting, Ashwin’s reign at the top could conceivably be short lived.
By suspending him for the next Test match for throwing a ball needlessly and dangerously while fielding, Richie Richardson may only have temporarily delayed Ravi Jadeja’s relentless march to the top of Test cricket’s most coveted bowler and all-rounder records.