Why the butt of so much humour has actually become an ODI great

It is not often that you can pinpoint the origins of an emotion but in the case of Ravindra Jadeja you can precisely identify when the jeering began. It was in June 2009 in a group match in the T20 World Cup – chasing England’s 153, 20-year-old Jadeja came out to bat at 23-2 ahead of Yuvraj, Yusuf Pathan and Dhoni. He responded to his captain’s faith in him by scoring a painstaking 25 in 35 balls – the lowest strike rate by any batsman who touched double figures in that game. India eventually made 150-5 in 20 overs, falling short by 3. The Villain was born that day.

Much like Ravi Shastri was booed in the 1980s for ostensibly slow batting, Ravindra Jadeja became the butt of much barracking first, then, after a fashion in these times, social media digs. However, from 2011, he actually began to show his abilities more consistently; a lot of credit to Dhoni who clearly knew what the youngster was capable of (it may have had to do with captaining him in the IPL too).

Gradually, Jadeja found his confidence and began to express himself fully – and the results have been spectacular lately. His left arm spin has often been more effective than even Ashwin’s – India’s number one spinner today in all 3 formats. And his middle-order ODI batting has been outstanding – as he consistently has maintained an excellent strike rate while invariably absorbing pressure – a rare combination in any format. His recent Test success has clearly given him even more confidence and established him as a frontline player in the international circuit.

All this has won him the admiration of his peers and particularly his team-mates. His captain Dhoni famously tweeted some of the new “Sir Ravindra Jadeja” jokes recently – which appear to be conceived by highly contrite fans repenting for their underestimation of his abilities by quintessentially overcompensating. The jokes are in the mythic superhero Rajnikanth mode – people of many different sensibilities have been known to steal a chuckle or two from these.

We use some of those popular (an ironic word in Jadeja’s context) jokes to make points no one else can. Impact Index measures (as opposed to rates) performances both in a match and series/tournament level – and in both contexts, certain aspects of Ravindra Jadeja’s performances come out as peerless, which are simply not spotted otherwise. His ability as a big match player, for example. Or his consistent capacity to absorb pressure.

It has led to him becoming one of the highest ODI players of all time – at the end of the West Indies tri-series, he is the 4th highest impact player in the history of ODI cricket after Viv Richards, Greg Chappell and Adam Gilchrist (minimum 50 matches), just ahead of Dhoni. Please temper this electric shock with the knowledge that he has played only 75 matches so far (74 completed games), and there is still a long way to go. Much of this will most certainly get evened out as time goes by – especially if he has a long career, as it certainly seems he will at this juncture. This fact merely means that he has had this kind of impact in these 74 matches for his team – and it has reflected in India’s ODI results in recent times.

74 matches do not constitute a small sample size of matches anyway. The fact is that no one in the history of ODI cricket has had a start to his career as he has had. Whatever happens from here, Ravindra Jadeja’s place in ODI cricket history will be a prominent one, at least amongst people paying attention.

Once, Sir Ravindra Jadeja set a cricket ball on fire and threw it into outer space. Today, they call it the sun.

At any rate, the stratosphere is where Jadeja belongs today. If we take 50 matches as the minimum qualification (as we have for all rankings in this piece), Ravindra Jadeja is the highest impact ODI player ever for India. Higher than MS Dhoni, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar (who follow in this order). Of course, he has played less than a third of what the first two have, and less than one fifth the number of matches Tendulkar has, but at this point this is his impact, which he really should be recognised for. Both his batting and bowling impact is actually higher than Kapil Dev’s – a stunning fact. Even conventionally, a batting average of 32 at a strike rate of 81 and a bowling average of 30 at an economy rate of 4.71 reveals a serious all-rounder. But the Impact scales reveal far more significant things.

MS Dhoni : I scored runs and made my team win.
Sir Ravindra Jadeja: I got out and made my team win.

The obvious reference is to the IPL match this year when, with 2 runs required off the last ball, Jadeja was caught at third-man, but his team still won because it was a no-ball and he managed to take a single while the catch was being taken. It is actually Jadeja’s ability to win the big moments that sets him apart from everybody else, especially in ODI cricket. Impact Index is the only system in cricket that measures a performance in the context of a series/tournament – marking high impact performances in knockout matches where the player’s team goes on to win the tournament or the match which decides the eventual series scoreline – they are recorded as a series/tournament defining performances ( SD ). These big match performances are often what a player is remembered for at the end of his career (or should be, at any rate). Two maximum impact performances (which often win matches single-handedly for the team) in a bilateral series also constitute an SD performance. Jadeja has a higher proportion of SDs in ODI cricket history than any cricketer from any country. He has 4 SDs from a mere 74 matches (including the recent Champions Trophy, where he was the rightful Man-of-the-Tournament). For perspective, consider that Dhoni has 9 from 218 matches, Kapil Dev 4 from 222, Tendulkar 11 from 455, Ganguly 7 from 302 and Kohli 3 from 106. Or Viv Richards who has 8 from 185 matches, Jayasuriya 11 from 438, Gilchrist 11 from 286, Imran Khan 4 from 174, Watson 5 from 158, Kallis 6 from 320 and Flintoff 4 from 139.

Yes, being in a winning team does help the cause of a series/tournament-defining player, but we’re talking ODI cricket history here – for all countries, even those who have won often. Winning two matches singlehandedly in a bilateral series is not a feat too many players accomplish often either. No one has had Jadeja’s ability to perform so consistently in the big matches. Sure, it helps that he is an all-rounder, and gets to contribute twice in a match, but there have been enough great all-rounders in the game.

Sir Ravindra Jadeja cracked the joke that made Mona Lisa smile. She otherwise was in a very foul mood.

He may not have been around in the 16th century but Jadeja’s presence in the middle has eased pressure right through his career. In fact, it is his hallmark – he is the highest Pressure Impact batsman in the history of ODI cricket for India (followed by Virat Kohli, Md Azharuddin, Rahul Dravid, Mohinder Amarnath and Yuvraj Singh) – this means he has absorbed more pressure (of falling wickets) than any Indian batsman in ODI history.

In fact, he is right at the top of a list of batsmen who have absorbed the most pressure for any country in ODI cricket history – along with Jeremy Coney and Roger Twose from New Zealand and Michael Bevan from Australia.

Astonishingly, 8 out of his highest impact ten batting performances in his career had a substantial amount of Pressure Impact . To deliver under pressure as often as he has is Jadeja’s hallmark and perhaps his greatest legacy as a player.

Sir Jadeja does not hit the ball. The ball comes to him, gets terrified, and runs away to the boundary.

It is actually true that Jadeja did not hit the ball when he first came into the Indian team (in 2009) – the big hits did not come to him naturally as they should for a no. 7 batsman. He was dropped promptly which led to him working so hard on his upper-body and strength that by the time he came back he was a completely transformed player. Today, he is amongst the 15 highest impact batsmen in Indian ODI cricket history when it comes to  Strike Rate Impact .

In fact, in the last one year (Jadeja’s best period), he is the 9th highest Strike Rate Impact batsman in the world and the second-highest Indian (after Shikhar Dhawan). This is no mean feat; we are talking about trespassing on Kohli and Dhoni territory here.

Sir Jadeja does not spin the ball. It’s just that the earth rotates a little bit more when he bowls.

Interestingly, Jadeja’s hallmark as a bowler is not his ability to turn but to attack the stumps continuously and vary his pace, which makes it very hard for the batsman to play strokes. On a turning pitch though (not so common in limited overs cricket), he can be a handful – his success in Test cricket ample proof of that. He is also the 7th-highest impact bowler for India in their ODI history ahead of names like Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Kapil Dev. And the 4th highest impact Indian spinner in ODI cricket, after Kumble, Harbhajan and Ashwin. Notably, he has the 5th highest Economy Impact in Indian cricket history, ahead of the likes of Ashwin, Srinath, Shastri, Zaheer Khan and Prasad.

In the last one year he has been, bar none, the highest impact bowler in ODI cricket – ahead of even Saeed Ajmal and James Anderson.

Sir Ravindra Jadeja is so quick, he once took a bat-pad catch while fielding at the long on boundary.

Maybe not quite as rapid, but when it comes to Fielding Impact (recorded catches and run outs), he is the 6th highest impact fielder in the history of ODI cricket for India. Only Virat Kohli, Mohammed Azharuddin, Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina and interestingly, VVS Laxman, are ahead of him on this count. The first four are famous for their catching and their out-fielding and Laxman was an outstanding catcher so we’re talking Indian fielding royalty here.

Some all-rounder, huh?

Form is temporary but Sir Jadeja is permanent.

For Ravindra Jadeja, nothing is temporary, not even his form. He has been the 5th most consistent player (lowest failure rate) in the last one year in ODI cricket, after Dhoni, Hafeez, Clarke and Trott – company to die for in this context.

In his last 20 ODI games, he has failed only thrice, and given 8 maximum impact performances (of Impact 5 or above) – this is consistency of an unreal kind that only those who remember Klusener’s 1999 World Cup or Ajit Agarkar’s Australian duck farm from that same year can perhaps relate to.

The apple which fell on Isaac Newton’s head was thrown by Sir Ravindra Jadeja.

Enlightenment is reportedly a process, not an event (Archimedes’ “Eureka!” notwithstanding). How long cricket commentators and writers take to realise Ravindra Jadeja’s place in the cricket world is anybody’s guess. They’re not going to get any help from batting and bowling averages to provide them that insight. Without taking into account match context and big match performances, Ravindra Jadeja’s place in cricket is still hazy at best for most people. Hopefully, this piece has illuminated somewhat his rightful place in that world and the laughter will be a little self-deprecatory now.


Jaideep Varma/Soham Sarkhel