The choice of Jadeja seemed more to do with India’s depleted bowling resources after the injury to Mohammed Shami in the first Test. With Shami unavailable and Ishant Sharma not making the trip Down Under, India did not have two of their first-choice seamers.
They were perhaps unsure about how debutant Mohammed Siraj would fare. Umesh Yadav, too, didn’t look at his best in Adelaide and can be hit-and-miss in overseas conditions. Despite the ignominy of 36 all out then, India decided to shore up their bowling options by playing the spin-bowling all-rounder rather than an out-and-out specialist batsman in Rahul.
In Pics: Ajinkya Rahane reigns as India batsmen banish nightmare 36
Ajinkya Rahane scored his 12th century in the third session of Day 2 to lead India’s reply against Australia in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. (Getty Images)
It would have been a gamble 3-4 years ago for Jadeja to bat at No. 7 in overseas conditions but not anymore. Jadeja, in his current avatar, seems as assured about his batting ability as his metronomic left-arm spin. The confidence has been more palpable on multiple occasions in limited-overs cricket, but his batting in the five-day format has been equally impressive of late. Since September 2018, when he struck an unbeaten 86 against England at The Oval, he aggregates 713 runs in 14 Test matches at an average of 59.41.
Sure, most of those Tests have come at home but crucially his batting approach has undergone a significant transformation in the last couple of years. Unlike earlier years when he would come in at No. 8 or 9 and be more comfortable throwing his bat around, he is now trusting his defence and playing like a batsman who is certain that runs will come if he bides time at the crease.
At the MCG on Sunday, he did exactly that. Coming in at 5/173 – it’s only the seventh instance where Jadeja is batting in the top-7 in an overseas Test – India were in an iffy situation with a couple of wickets at that juncture threatening to derail all the hard work they had done up until then. Along with a composed Ajinkya Rahane at the other end, though, Jadeja never seemed ruffled as they went about building a potentially match-defining partnership. The runs were not flowing freely off Jadeja’s bat, but it never tempted him into playing an injudicious stroke that could lead to his downfall.
Jadeja will have to build on his unbeaten 40* on Monday, but his innings so far is an embodiment of his evolution as a Test batsman. Till mid-2018, in fact, the left-hander was mostly coming in to bat behind R Ashwin, who has four Test centuries to his credit. But just as Ashwin’s batting has tailed off in recent times, Jadeja’s has picked up and shown that he is ready for more responsibility. For a long time, the discrepancy in Jadeja’s batting record in first-class cricket – where he has three triple centuries – and international cricket did not reflect favourably, but he seems to be making amends now and bridging that gap.
If Jadeja can keep this up in the time to come, it gives the Indian team the luxury of consistently playing the 32-year-old at No. 7 irrespective of the conditions and having five bowlers to choose from at all times.