Ravindra_Jadeja_Final
Illustration: Vasim Maner

‘Bowling in partnerships’ is an oft-used phrase in cricket – one without any quantifiable evidence. Sure, you can look at the cumulative wickets of the bowlers when they played together – the likes of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, or Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, or Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, and so on to name a few iconic pairs. But what if the other bowler in the partnership is not as prolific a wicket-taker? What about the pressure exerted through disciplined bowling at one end which leads to a wicket for the strike bowler at the other end? Economy rate is hardly mentioned in Test cricket, but it has its own unique role to play. Worse, even if standard economy rates are to be looked at, there is no context attached. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure that bowling tight spells at a venue like the Wankhede is much harder than doing so at a ground like the Eden Gardens. But the bigger question is what happens to that support bowler? How are we quantifying the genuine pressure that his tight bowling exerts? It is funny how a batsman’s strike rate is discussed repeatedly by experts, and if he is at the right end of the spectrum, he is lauded and looked up to as a game changer. You would be hard pressed to find discussions about economy rates, which ought to be spoken about more given the progressive rise in average run-rates in Test cricket.

In Impact Index, all parameters are measured within the context of the match. Conventionally, an absolute economy rate means nothing without looking at the context of the match that it came in. Economy Impact , however, looks at the bowler’s economy rate within the context of that match and figures out whether a bowler has really been restrictive. It is awarded to bowlers in special circumstances, much like Strike Rate Impact to batsmen in Test cricket. The logic being that economy and strike rates should matter only after a threshold (which is different for each Test match), after which they become significant enough to shape the flow of the match.

 

THE STORY

Ravindra Jadeja has been a social media darling for quite some time now and most people tend to see him only as a happy-go-lucky player. Impact Index had published a piece on the same, soon after the 2013 tri-nation series in West Indies (involving Sri Lanka as the third team), noting how Jadeja had been ever so crucial for India in their ODI successes post the 2011 World Cup. He was then the highest impact player for India in its ODI history – a shocking revelation for a time when ‘Sir Jadeja’ jokes were at their peak.

While he has slipped since, Jadeja still remains the fourth-highest impact Indian ODI player of all time after Kapil Dev, MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar. It is not a surprise given that he has been a genuine all-rounder and a big-match player in the format.

That said, let us now focus on Tests.

If our finding on Jadeja’s ODI career seemed a bit over-the-top, this might be the moment where you say Impact Index is rubbish, for Ravindra Jadeja is the highest Economy Impact bowler in the 140 years of Test cricket.

Yes, in Test cricket history, no bowler has been as restrictive as Jadeja.

India vs South Africa, 4th Test, Delhi, 2015: After opting to bat first, India post 334 in their first innings. South Africa, in reply, are skittled for 121 with Jadeja picking up 5 for 30 in 12 overs. India bat again to set South Africa a target of 481 runs. Knowing that the target is well out of reach, the South African batsmen look to play for a draw but Jadeja’s relentless pressure from one end makes them succumb to R Ashwin who claims 5 for 61 off 49.1 overs. Jadeja sends down 33 maidens as he returns with figures of 2 for 26 in 46 overs. A classic example of bowling well in partnerships.

 

THE CONTEXT

In his Test career so far, Ravindra Jadeja has picked up 122 wickets in 27 Tests at an average of close to 24 and an economy rate of 2.27. Conventionally, when it comes to economy rate – amongst bowlers who have bowled in atleast 50 Test innings – Jadeja is at the 46th position (shared with four other bowlers).

In Test matches that India have won, Jadeja’s economy rate improves to 2.08, thereby underlining the importance of his restrictive abilities. On a list of best economy rates in matches won, Jadeja slots in at 18th (min: 30 innings) and is the second Indian after Bishan Singh Bedi.

While Bedi’s economy rate in matches that India won was 1.96, the average run rate in matches that he played in was only 2.57. Likewise, the average run rate in matches Ray Illingworth – who has the best economy rate in winning causes (1.69) in Test history – played in was only 2.46.

On the other hand, the average run rate in matches Jadeja was part of is a rather high 3.07. Proportionately, therefore, one can say that Jadeja is much more restrictive.

It should not come as a surprise that the ongoing decade (1 January 2010 onwards) has seen the highest average run-rate (3.23) in the history of Test cricket and so when Jadeja’s economy rate is seen within the context of the matches that he played in, he comes out right on top.

India vs England, 3rd Test, Mohali, 2016: England, after electing to bat first, score 283 with Jadeja picking up 2 for 59 in 23 overs. In reply, India are struggling at 204 for 6 when Jadeja walks in to bat. Along with R Ashwin (72) and then Jayant Yadav (55), Jadeja propels the home team to 417, scoring 90 in the process and emerging as the top-scorer. England are bowled out for 236 in their second innings with Jadeja picking up 2 for 62 in 30 overs, sending down 12 maidens. India chase down the required 104 runs with eight wickets in hand. Jadeja gets the Man of the Match award for his all-round effort and, during his acceptance speech, says “The pitch wasn’t a turning pitch so I had to bowl tight. Myself and Virat discussed that I should bowl five maidens in a row. Fortunately, I got Stokes in the first innings and Root in the second.” This further demonstrates the importance of the restrictive role that Jadeja plays for India.

 

UNDER THE SHADOW

Jadeja’s role is one that is not appreciated much because of the presence of R Ashwin – the highest impact bowler in the history of Test cricket (min: 40 Tests) – at the other end. That Ashwin is the more prolific wicket-taker of the two reduces Jadeja’s chances to register a higher impact as bowler. But as a partnership, they have been lethal – complementing each other perfectly to take India to the number one position in the ICC Test rankings. When seen individually, Jadeja emerges as the second-highest impact bowler in India’s Test history and the sixth-highest overall after R Ashwin, Bill O’Reilly, Muttiah Muralitharan, Clarrie Grimmett and Sydney Barnes. It also makes him the highest impact left-arm bowler in Test history (min: 25 Tests) – no small feat! It further amplifies the point that even though he is seen as a support act to Ashwin, he is a lead bowler in his own right. In fact, in Test matches featuring them both, Jadeja has had a better average and economy rate despite Ashwin claiming 27 more wickets. Even more stunningly, Jadeja’s failure rate of only 15% with the ball is marginally better than Ashwin’s (16%), which makes him the most consistent bowler in India’s Test history and the seventh-most consistent bowler overall (min: 25 Tests) after Barnes (7%), Colin Croft (11%), O’Reilly (11%), Joel Garner (12%), John Snow (12%) and Dennis Lillee (14%). Yes, Jadeja’s is an ongoing career – and pitfalls are, perhaps, due – but at this moment, his achievements as a bowler are astonishing. While overseas performances are also a question mark, they become tired arguments after a point.

England vs India, 2nd Test, Lord’s, 2015: After being asked to bat first on a green top, India manage 295 runs courtesy Ajinkya Rahane’s 103. England, in reply, score 319 with Ravindra Jadeja picking up 2 for 46 in 18.5 overs, including the important wicket of Joe Root. In their second innings, India are effectively 179 runs ahead for the loss of six wickets when Jadeja walks in to bat. In a scintillating counter-attack, Jadeja (68 off 57 balls) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (52 runs off 71 balls) set England a target of 319. Buoyed by Ishant Sharma’s 7 for 74 and Jadeja’s restrictive bowling (1 for 53 in 32.2 overs), India defeat England by 95 runs and mark a historic overseas Test win.

 

THE PROMISE

Ravindra Jadeja just about makes it as a genuine all-rounder for India in Test cricket, but he is yet to fulfil his batting potential. As a number 4 batsman for Saurashtra, Jadeja has played many vital and, more importantly, long knocks in a shaky batting line-up. He needs to embrace that side of his responsibility as a batsman for India as well. It might just be a matter of confidence, but it is a little scary to imagine where his career might head if he rediscovers his batting prowess. As of now, Jadeja is the master restrictor that Captain Kohli wants and demands – little does he know that the southpaw is the best the game has ever seen.

 

 

Soham Sarkhel