Ravindra Jadeja’s promotion to No.5 in the batting order at The Oval displays the trust the India team management has in his batting skills, writes Sarah Waris.
India have been termed stubborn and rigid for sticking to their pre-set templates this series, but they sprang a surprise at The Oval by sending in Ravindra Jadeja two places above his customary No.7 position, with Ajinkya Rahane demoted to six. Such is their hesitancy to experiment, especially midway through a series, that the only plausible reason for the shuffle was assumed to be a loo break that India’s vice-captain had taken at the wrong time.
However, all such theories were dispelled by Shardul Thakur. “We have seen that on a number of occasions Jadeja has scored crucial runs and coming to England if you saw his batting in the first Test and also at Lord’s in the first innings, he’s been trying to stay on the pitch,” he said after day one. “He’s batting patiently and just to use that left-right combination we sent him up the order.”
The move highlighted Jadeja’s growing reputation as a Test batsman, while also suggesting that the simultaneous poor run of form by Rahane might have finally started to tire out those in the dressing room. Rahane has just one score of over 20 in his last eight Test innings, with his average this year being a grim 19.57.
Jadeja’s batting surge warrants a promotion
Before the WTC final, Jadeja was one of only two players to average over 30 in England in the India squad. Virat Kohli led the pack, averaging 36.35, with Jadeja, at 30.66 above both Cheteshwar Pujara (29.41) and Rahane (29.26). These numbers do not reveal his true value to the India side, but they do show how his teammates had struggled in these conditions.
Since 2018, Jadeja’s away batting numbers are even more promising: his average of 35.60 is the fourth-highest among players from India who have played more than five Tests, and he has five fifties in the interim, the fourth-most in the side. Add in the fact that more often than not, Jadeja has had to bat with the tail often facing the second new ball, and the challenges he faced and conquered, can in no way be overlooked.
On the recent tour Down Under, Jadeja displayed his range of skills by playing 159 balls for 57 runs at Melbourne, which was followed by a 37-ball 28* at Sydney. Prior to the series, he had batted away from home ten times from 2018, facing 100+ balls three times en route to three fifties. In this series, Jadeja has already batted 358 balls for his 160 runs and considering India’s nemesis with the second new ball, he did a remarkable job in the third innings at The Oval, seeing off the new cherry after it had accounted for two quick wickets on Saturday evening. It allowed Rahane, at six, the cushion to play with an older ball with the luxury of a few more runs, and while that didn’t pan out, Rishabh Pant seemed to enjoy the extra protection, making his first half-century of the series.
His struggles with the tail
Jadeja, for all his batting prowess, is not at his best when he has to rotate the strike and bat alongside the tail in the format. During the WTC final, Jadeja, batting alongside Ishant Sharma, who averaged 8.28 with the bat then, failed to rotate the strike well, allowing him to take a single on the fifth ball of the 91st over. Ishant was dismissed in the very next over, with Jasprit Bumrah following suit. India were eventually dismissed for 217, with the last three wickets falling in the span of four balls. Jadeja, who had batted for 53 balls, was criticized for the lack of match-awareness.
The instances are many: Jadeja allowed Navdeep Saini to face Mitchell Starc at the SCG earlier this year after taking a single on the final ball of the 94th over. Saini was out on the fifth ball of the next over. He misjudged a run in the same game, which resulted in Bumrah’s run-out, and then exposed Mohammed Siraj to face an entire Pat Cummins over a few deliveries later. The trend is hard to ignore.
It thus, becomes increasingly evident, that Jadeja’s strength is not batting with the lower-order, despite his big-hitting skills. Instead of pushing him to succeed in a role he might never be good at it is wiser to play him higher among specialist batsmen at a position he might genuinely excel in. His promotion to five could also allow India to finally move on from Rahane, with either Hanuma Vihari or Suryakumar Yadav slotting in at six, with Pant to follow.
Jadeja, the batter, has grown exponentially over the years, so much so that his batting form has somewhat allowed his bowling returns to be overlooked in the series. His strengths with the willow have meant that he has been able to keep his spot over R Ashwin in the side as the lone spinner, despite averaging 55.50 with the ball thus far. He has been backed as a batsman, and so he should be given the maximum chance to succeed. Five might just be where he was always destined to be.
*All stats till the third innings at The Oval.