Can Ravindra Jadeja be India's middle order option going forward?

Kartikeya Kumar

Ravindra Jadeja

Ravindra Jadeja, like most cricketers, might not deliver everyday. But as a fielder, batsman and bowler, his commitment cannot be questioned regardless of the occasion.

Jadeja's swashbuckling innings in the recently concluded World Cup semifinal reminded us of the Jadeja of 2014, who held the number seven position in the batting order with some assurance.

A substandard performance during the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, followed by the success of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, kept both Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin out of limited overs contention for over a year. Jadeja was brought in to replace the injured Hardik Pandya in the middle of last year's Asia Cup, and has impressed as a third spinning option for the Indian squad ever since.

Jadeja and Ashwin were, however, persisted with as the lead spinning combination in the longer format. Besides delivering in Test matches, Jadeja (and even Ashwin for that matter) have worked on their other attributes - batting and fielding.

India v New Zealand - ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Semi-Final

While he scored a quickfire match-winning 70 not out against Sri Lanka in August 2017, Jadeja's abilities as a batsman were on display during his only appearance on the tour of England in 2018. An attacking unbeaten 86 against the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Sam Curran, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid amid a collapsing Indian batting order was one of the highlights of the five-match Test series.

Almost a month later, Jadeja scored his maiden Test century against West Indies on his home ground in Rajkot. His abilities as an all-rounder have certainly kept him on the periphery of the ODI squad. Though Jadeja last appeared in a T20 international more than two years ago, he has not disappointed in his limited opportunities since his ODI comeback in September 2018.

While Jadeja is not the same wicket-taking force as he was between Champions Trophy 2013 and the 2015 World Cup, he has averaged above 22 with the bat in his nine innings since his comeback. He has batted at number eight in most of these innings, and has struck at a rate of over 80 per hundred balls.

His 77 off just 59 balls in the World Cup semifinal in Manchester should provide relief to the team management for a number of reasons. During that innings Jadeja not only should the composure to preserve his wicket at a time of crisis, but could also land more than a few lusty hits over the fence.

The sixes collection from the match was dominated by Jadeja, and each of his big strikes was a sight to savor.

If Jadeja could contribute so much with the bat despite batting at number eight with almost no support from the rest of the batsmen, why can he not bat higher? The Indian middle order has been a headache for years now, so why not infuse someone who is in form?

Jadeja has age on his side as well. He is still one of India's best and most athletic fielders, and surely knows how to build innings and rotate the strike. Looking at what Ben Stokes did in the World Cup batting at number five, the Indian team management can think of utilizing Jadeja in a similar manner.

The next World Cup is in India and Jadeja is a good player of spin - which always plays a crucial role in the subcontinent. Also, thinking of Jadeja as a third spinning option rather than one of the four bowlers sounds more sensible.

Just like in World Cup 2011, where Yuvraj batted at number five and bowled 10 overs as a fifth bowler, Jadeja can do the job when required. Though he is certainly not a seasoned batsman like Yuvraj, he has all that it takes to satisfy the criterion of a middle order batsman in today's one-day cricket.

If Jadeja bats at any position between five to seven, with Hardik Pandya included in the XI, the Indian team becomes more flexible than ever. They can still bowl four specialist bowlers, including two specialist spinners when needed.

This is the time India can experiment playing Jadeja in the middle order and groom him for the big tournaments. And this experiment is certainly less risky than Greg Chappell's experiment of opening the batting innings with a strike bowler like Irfan Pathan.