Ravindra Jadeja was the star of the show at The Oval today, and Ben Jones laments the fact that we haven’t seen more of him this summer.
Robert Henryson, the medieval fabulist, is not a regular cricket pundit. However, he offered a little bit of wisdom back in the 15th Century which would be rather useful, if Virat Kohli were to take heed of it.
In Henryson’s ‘The Cock and the Jasp’, a foolish chicken is rooting around for food, and finds a jewel. It ignores it, thinking that the more immediate, humble concern of food is what it should be focusing on. The essential moral of the story is that in focusing on smaller tasks, trying to solve small problems, we don’t give enough thought to the bigger picture, which often includes answers to everything smaller.
The degree of talent India have in this squad is vast, and with such abundance comes the luxury of selection quandaries. As such, this summer India have been obsessed with trying to balance their side and to put it bluntly, they haven’t got it right on any occasion. They have been so focused on trying to find the right balance of batsmen to bowlers, whilst including enough seamers to match the exact conditions at every venue, that they have neglected to remember that their best all-rounder is a spin bowler, and he’s not played whilst the series has been alive.
As written on this site yesterday, India have struggled to contend with the lower-order power and resistance of England’s batting line-up, unable to match the hosts. The man out of the side, Ravindra Jadeja, is the best lower order batsman in the world. Period.
As such, nobody should be surprised by his performance today. His 86* was the backbone to India’s fightback in this Test – a fightback they rather threw away with a slightly lacklustre bowling performance – as his experience was put to excellent use, albeit with bat rather than ball. He showed a clear understanding of how to put together an innings from that No.8 position. Batting with the debutant Hanuma Vihari, well-set and looking in good touch after a streaky start last night, Jadeja was conservative. He played just 11.7% attacking shots, reigning in his aggressive instincts to produce a secure, solid effort. 24% of the balls he faced were left alone, the highest figure he’s recorded in any of his Test half-centuries.
After lunch, without the company of Vihari and with a queue of tail-enders awaiting in the dressing room, he started to go through the gears. He lifted his attacking shot percentage to 37%. It was clear what he was trying to do, and it worked wonders, as he strolled to 46* (65). Hardly akin to what Buttler has been offering when batting with the tail, but that’s a high bar to measure anyone against.
What Buttler hasn’t done, is back it up with the ball, which Jadeja has also done. Today, his set-up to Moeen Ali was sublime, sending the ball repeatedly sliding past his outside edge, before darting one in with 8.2° of spin, the most of any ball he bowled. It was canny, intelligent bowling – which takes wickets all over the world.
The fundamental point is that India are a significantly better side than England. People can point at the pre-eminence of home victories in Test cricket and suggest that there is the reason for India’s defeat, but that lets too many people off the hook rather too easily.
Hardik Pandya has bowled an average of just 55 balls per innings in this series. He has averaged 23.42 with the bat. Hardik Pandya is a wonderful cricketer, whose performance at Trent Bridge was the key to India’s sole victory on this tour. That’s a given. But he has not been a consistent contributor with either, despite his bowling at Nottingham. His selection has left India short with both bat and ball.
Moeen Ali has taken as many wickets as India’s off-spinner this series, despite bowling just over half as many deliveries. Ashwin may have been carrying an injury, but he has still not performed to the level India needed. His average of 32.72 this series is the worst he’s managed in his last 12 Test series. It is difficult to imagine that Jadeja could not have matched or exceeded his efforts.
Would Jadeja have scored fewer runs than Hardik had he played all five Tests?
Would Jadeja have taken fewer wickets than Ashwin?
It is hard to argue, on the evidence of today, that the answer would be yes to either of these questions. When it’s factored in that Jaddu would have done this whilst only occupying one space in the side, it’s difficult to call his non-selection anything other than a huge mistake. If he bowls well tomorrow, it could well look calamitous. Getting increasingly funky and inventive, India’s selectors have overthought the present, become too focused on the immediate concern, and forgotten the jewel of Jadeja.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.