One can’t state enough how pivotal Ravindra Jadeja was to India’s victory at The Oval. Their first at the venue in more than half a century in what was a crucial penultimate Test of a five-match series.
In cold numbers, Jadeja had unexciting figures of 2/36 & 2/50 and scores of only 10 & 17. But in pure game-influence, this was one of the most significant performances of the spin all-rounder’s career. One of those layered, impactful acts that often doesn’t grab the headlines but is valued by the captain and the team management.
The most Pujara-esque of performances not delivered by Pujara.
It started on Day 2. Even though India had kept themselves in the contest thanks to Shardul Thakur‘s exhilarating half-century, they still had only 191 runs to contend with. The moisture and the seam movement observed in the first couple of sessions on Day 1 had now died down and it became a batting surface.
Somehow still, India reduced England to 62/5 and looked set to take a significant lead. But an imminent recovery followed, as Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow added 66 runs to their team’s total in the next 13 overs with a flurry of boundaries hit against Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Thakur.
At this point, it was evident that India were missing both Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, who wouldn’t have given Pope and Bairstow such break-free scoring opportunities with half their team dismissed.
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India needed to regain control but they only had Jasprit Bumrah available among their dependable, accurate seamers and he couldn’t have bowled from both ends. This is where Ravindra Jadeja came to his team’s rescue.
From the 38th over of the England innings when he was first introduced into the attack till the 53rd they batted, the home team could add only another 39 runs to their total and lost one of their well-set batsmen. In a 16-over passage, the eight of which he bowled at a stretch from his end, Jadeja helped restore a sense of calm to the proceedings.
His spell of 0/19 was a rhythm breaker for Pope and Bairstow, who were going at a brisk pace when facing Thakur, in particular. Once not fed balls to hit on both sides of the wicket, Pope and Bairstow were suddenly forced to take a few calculative risks just to keep the scoreboard moving.
At the Test match level, especially today when limited-overs cricket so heavily influences our sport, it’s not defending for hours that keeps the batsmen brimming with confidence and security at the crease but the frequency of boundary balls they receive. These scoring opportunities are important for their survival as they help avert risks and keep the batsman sane for longer periods of time, aiding a clearer and accurate decision-making at the crease.
This reflected in the wicket of Bairstow, as he was out LBW, missing an incoming delivery from Siraj in the 47th over. Bairstow was on 37 at the time, looking good for a major score. He couldn’t have looked to force the issue against Jadeja and so he took his chance against the inexperienced Siraj, looking to play the ball through the on-side, only to be sent back to the dressing room.
Playing an indirect role in a crucial breakthrough, Jadeja could pat himself on the back and in a cricketing reward, he got a much-deserved breather.
It says something about Jadeja that in the space of next eight overs while he rested, England scored at 3 runs per over and reached from 167/6 to 191/6. The run-rate in the previous 16 overs was 2.43.
In the next 9 overs that Jadeja bowled in this innings till India had the second new ball available, he gave away only 17 runs. The miscued slog from Moeen Ali that every commentator decried was as much a result of the sustained pressure created by Jadeja singlehandedly as it was the left-hander’s fault. But far too often we look at bowling and batting as two separate entities when their impact is so greatly intertwined with each other in what is essentially a single-ball play.
Not long after that, Pope, who had batted with great restraint and patience for his 81, was forced to look at what is now a not-so-fast moving scorecard. He dabbed at a skiddy but harmless ball outside off from Thakur, only to edge it back to his stumps.
That’s two well-set batsmen out at the other end, the other taken out by Ravindra Jadeja himself. He also got lower-order batsman Ollie Robinson out after he missed an attempted slog through mid-wicket.
Jadeja didn’t bowl with the second new ball, Chris Woakes took control of the situation and blasted a fifty which quickly took England’s lead to 99 when the final wicket fell.
While batting with No.11 James Anderson, Woakes denied a number of singles that he could’ve taken with a more dependable tailend partner, say Robinson, who would’ve helped him not only chip away at runs more frequently but also delay the risk-taking at his end. It showed the value of that Robinson wicket also.
When England could’ve easily raced to a lead of 140-150 and put India more or less out of the game, they had to settle with one below the 100-run mark and that provided the visitors a backdoor opportunity. It was Jadeja who made that possible.
If one were to present an alternative sheet of India’s bowling figures, it would be something like this:-
Jadeja: 17 overs, 36 runs 2 wickets. ER 2.11
Bumrah: 21 overs, 67 runs 2 wickets, ER 3.19
Other Indian bowlers: 46 overs, 172 runs, 5 wickets, ER 3.73.
On a day where even Bumrah was arguably feeling the absence of Ishant and Shami, with three skillful but expensive bowlers operating at the other end, Jadeja made an impact, he kept India floating when they could’ve drowned before even entering the second half.
His promotion to No.5 may have been mistaken as a shade on Ajinkya Rahane by some, but the idea was clear: India looked to maximise the form Ravindra Jadeja the batsman has shown. That was being wasted in the first three Tests, batting alongside one of the weakest tails, with Jadeja forced to take undue risks earlier than he would’ve liked in the absence of Ravichandran Ashwin at No.8.
And so to see that he bats to his potential, with the calmness and solidity that he can, India provided their premier all-rounder at The Oval the assurity and the cushion he required of more capable partners around him.
It made an instant impact in the left-hander’s approach. Batting as high as this only for the second time in his long career, it was important to keep the expectations in check with Jadeja in this Test. Yet he produced a crucial knock in the second innings.
When Jadeja walked out to bat, India had just lost Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara in the very first over with the second new ball. And with a struggling Ajinkya Rahane to follow, England could smell blood.
Their three best pacers – Anderson, Robinson and Woakes – operated for the majority of the next 20 overs, a phase when Jadeja played out 58 balls from an end. He was dismissed on the 59th, but his vital stand of 49 with Virat Kohli was instrumental in making life easier for India’s lower middle-order.
Because Jadeja and Kohli stretched Anderson and Robinson and got them tiring, England skipper Joe Root was forced to give them an extended break, recognising their workload in what has been a long Test series, with the next game in Manchester starting after a gap of only three days.
Robinson had been Rishabh Pant’s nemesis in the first three Tests but here the wicketkeeper-batsman didn’t have to face him until the back half of his innings. By the time Robinson and Anderson returned to bowl, Pant and Thakur were well set and in much better headspace to tackle the opposition’s biggest threat.
They added 100 runs for the seventh wicket and took India’s lead past 300. Everyone applauded Pant and especially Thakur for their innings, only few cared to acknowledge the work that Jadeja had done from an end to make their stay at the crease more comfortable. Truly, cricket is such a beautiful team game.
But that wasn’t all for Ravindra Jadeja. His third big contribution came in the final innings. Despite making a slightly nervy start with the ball, Jadeja soon bounced back to his miserly and accurate self and helped India break England’s resistance.
One of the most important aspects of Test cricket that this series has highlighted in India’s wins at Lord’s and The Oval is the need for a team to take one result completely out of the equation.
While we often hear the need to dangle the carrot and make the opposition believe their chase is on so as to encourage them to take risks, it helps a great deal when you have the runs in a plenty and can maintain attacking fields for that much longer.
With England reaching 77/0 and needing a further 291 with ten wickets intact and an entire day’s play left, there was a chance – a slight chance, alright – that they could go for glory. It was important for India at that point to not let the scoreboard move at all and gradually take an Indian defeat away from all the realistic possibilities.
This is where, again, it was Jadeja who played the defining role for India. From his overnight figures of 0/28 off 13 overs, Jadeja allowed England to add only 11 runs from his end over 8 overs. Hardly giving away a thing, he was partly responsible for Malan and Hameed getting drawn into a risky single which led to the former’s run-out.
Just after lunch, Jadeja got Hameed out with a beauty that turned from leg to hit the right-hander’s off-stump. The left-armer then made short work of Moeen Ali, who could only lob a defensive push against the spin to the short-leg fielder. At the other end, Bumrah showed his class and got Pope, Bairstow out in quick succession. England’s fight was over not soon thereafter with Thakur, again, in just the fashion he got Pope, having Root edge a skidder onto his stumps.
On a surface offering him nothing other than some rough spots wide of the left-hander’s off-stump, Jadeja finished with an economy rate of 1.83 over 47 overs for the match.
He first kept India in the game, derailing England’s progress and forcing them to take risks for scoring. And then he ensured there was no possibility of an Indian defeat and that his team could attack constantly.
Either side of which, he played the second new ball from an end when England threatened to undo all of India’s comeback with the bat and gave the vulnerable lower half of India’s batting the comforting space they required.
All in all, there were 2,317 deliveries bowled over five days at The Oval. Ravindra Jadeja was involved in only 375 of those as a bowler or batsman. Yet, he could claim to have had an influence on the major chunk of the Test.
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