The first Test in Pune between India and Australia witnessed carnage from a left-arm spinner. Except, it wasn’t the spinner everyone expected.
The little-known Steve O’Keefe, who had only played four Tests before this match, bounded up and wreaked destruction. He took 12/70 in the entire match, with identical spells of 6/35 in each innings. Overnight, he became a spin sensation.
And perhaps more revealingly, he overshadowed the other left-arm spinner in the game who was supposed to do what he exactly did. Ravindra Jadeja, the world’s third-best bowler in Tests according to the International Cricket Council’s rankings, did not even get half the number of wickets that O’Keefe did. He bowled a total of 57 overs in the match, conceded 139 runs and got a match total of five wickets.
Fair to say, O’Keefe outbowled him. But that is not the full story. Jadeja’s numbers weren’t the greatest, but the numbers don’t reveal how he was actually a constant threat to Australia’s batsmen.
Steeve O'Keefe is playing the match India thought Ravindra Jadeja would play!— Sorabh Pant (@hankypanty) February 25, 2017
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Just too good for a turner
As Kartikeya Date pointed out in his piece, Jadeja can consider himself unlucky. O’Keefe beat the bat 36 times in the entire match and got 12 wickets in total. Correspondingly, Jadeja did the same but got less reward: he beat the bat a total of 94 times in the match and got only five wickets in return.
And despite, Ravichandran Ashwin picking up four wickets in Australia’s second innings, it was clearly Jadeja who was the better bowler. Ashwin was picked off for easy runs as his economy rate of 4.25 demonstrates. Jadeja, on the other hand, kept things extremely tight (his economy rate in that innings was 1.96) and was unlucky to have a catch dropped off him. Throughout the match, he beat the bat countless times, till by the end of it, he had stopped reacting to any plays-and-misses.
While Ravichandran Ashwin has deservedly received all the accolades for India’s hugely-successful home season, Ravindra Jadeja has been the perfect foil. His ability to keep it tight has allowed Ashwin to swoop in and take the wickets at the other end. In the 20 times he’s bowled through India’s home season so far, Jadeja’s economy rate has been above three runs an over only thrice so far.
The 28-year-old also has a propensity to run through the opposition’s batting line-up as he displayed against England in the fifth Test at Chennai. From 103/0, England were bowled out for 207 all out, with Jadeja taking 7/48.
How Jadeja complements Ashwin
“They’ve complemented each other fantastically, haven’t they?” said Venkatapathy Raju to Scroll.in before the first Test. As a left-arm spinner himself and part of the Indian team in the 1990s when Anil Kumble was the spin spearhead, Raju is in a better place than most to analyse Jadeja’s success.
“Just like fast bowlers, even spinners love to hunt in packs. If there’s a strike bowler in the team, the job of the other bowlers is to keep it tight and soon the wicket-taking balls will arrive,” reasoned Raju. “And that’s what exactly Jadeja has been doing. Look at his wrist position and how well he has been bowling. For any bowler, it’s always nice to have someone keeping the pressure at the other end.”
The former Indian spinner though cautions against calling Jadeja just a defensive spinner. “There’s nothing like that [a defensive bowler],” he said. “When you’re playing top-level international cricket, you have to be an attacking bowler. Only then will you get results.”
And Jadeja has combined expertly with Ashwin to get those results. He dismissed Alastair Cook six times in the England series, no mean feat, considering the England skipper is considered among the best overseas batsmen to play in Asia.
To be fair, an argument can almost be made that Ravindra Jadeja was just too good in Pune. The nip and turn he usually gets was doubled by a turning surface and coupled by the Australian batsmen’s refusal to play for the turn and follow the ball, ensured that Jadeja could not get the same amount of success as O’Keefe did. On a more conventional Indian surface surface which he is likely to get in Bengaluru though, he will, yet again, be in operation, zipping through overs and getting just the amount of turn required to take the edge. Steve Smith has reason to be careful. Jadeja isn’t done, by a long shot.