O Ravi Jadeja: The real 3-d player who saved India embarrassment in the World Cup semi-final
While selecting India's 15-member World Cup squad, chief selector MSK Prasad had referred to Vijay Shankar as a 3-d player.
While Shankar failed to leave a mark in any dimension, let alone all the three, Ravindra Jadeja displayed the real meaning of a 3-d player in the first World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand in Manchester.
After the 2015 Champions Trophy final, when the Indian bowlers took a solid pounding by Fakhar Zaman through the middle overs, the team decided to sideline their hitherto frontline spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja for young and skilful wristies Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Jadeja had since warmed the benches for a large part of these four years, barring the 2018 Asia Cup. He was summoned by skipper Virat Kohli at a crucial juncture in the 2019 World Cup and the all-rounder did not disappoint.
Team India were tottering at 92-6 when the wirey Saurashtra all-rounder took guard in the centre. At the other end was the grand old man of the Indian cricket team, MS Dhoni, who had earlier seen India to victory 47 out of the 51 times that he had been unbeaten in a run chase.
The Men in Blue still required 148 from around 20 overs and their belief was battered and bruised. Even the most optimistic of the fans did not have the audacity to predict an India win at this moment. But to the surprise of many, the shock of some, Jadeja enthused life into the morbid Indian fans and looked a class apart right from the first ball he faced.
"The innings that Jadeja played, it was like he was playing on a different wicket, really. He timed the ball beautifully well. He was very very clear in how he operated in that partnership with Dhoni and swung things to parity, perhaps them even having the momentum going into those last few overs," noted Black Caps skipper Kane Williamson after the match, almost echoing the sentiments of 1.3 billion Indians.
The first semi-final had unusually resumed on the reserve day, with New Zealand posting a target of 244 on a tricky slow surface. The Indian hopes were all but over when the top three were gone within the first 19 deliveries of the Indian innings. And there was a good reason for this disappointment. India's top three had amassed a staggering 1577 runs in the tournament till then, but could only manage three - one each - when it mattered the most.
Jadeja had not been part of India's scheme of things for the better part of India's World Cup campaign. It was only when Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal copped a lot of beating against the English power-hitters that India resorted to playing Jadeja in their last group match.
The CSK maestro was right on the money from the get-go. He was extremely tight with his line and lenghts, bowling that in-between length, too short to drive, too full to cut or pull. He put a squeeze on two of the world's best batsmen in Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson and did not allow them to break free, just the control that India were unable to find with left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav. Also, along expected lines, the 30-year-old was a live wire in the field.
Jadeja's passion had been fuelled by former Indian cricketer and commentator Sanjay Manjrekar's referring to him as a 'bits and pieces' cricketer. Generally, a very reserved personality, Jadeja lashed on to the criticism with an uncharacteristic reply, before making his point more clear with his skillset.
Being virtually out of the game at 92-6, it is praiseworthy that Jadeja kept his belief intact when most would have surrendered meekly. Jadeja has never been one to throw in the towel and it was his belief that stood out once again. He believed and with him believed the entire nation. Even Virat Kohli was seen saying 'ho jyega' in the dressing room after the Saurashtra all-rounder notched up his maiden World Cup century, followed by his iconic sword-slinging celebration.
That moment had almost every Indian cricket fan shifting uncomfortably on the sofa. The emotions of thousands sitting in the stands in Manchester were no different. With every passing minute, the belief that the target was within the realm of reality kept growing stronger.
Jadeja was finally dismissed in the 48th as he skied one straight up off Trent Boult while trying to launch it in the stands. An innings that was just a couple of blows short of being termed one of the finest in the World Cups, would now be remembered as a valiant individual effort that personified belief.
Had it not been for his inspiring knock completely against the run of play, India might have lost the game by 100 runs or more and with it, they would have lost face. It was Jadeja who helped the team keep their heads high despite missing the final berth by 18 runs. His best appreciation, perhaps, came from his vehement critic Sanjay Manjrekar. "By bits and by pieces, he just ripped me apart today," the commentator had to eat his words, much to the pleasure of cricket fanatics.
©Cricket World 2019