“I’m not sure he’s missed training since we’ve been here.” – Stephen Fleming, Chennai Super Kings coach, at Ravindra Jadeja.
“I also hit the nets well, so I just thought about that, how I hit the nets, and I was hoping to do that in the fight.” – Jadeja after his inning of 31
Hitting the ball well during training without missing a single training session in the two months that the Super Kings have been in the UAE is a lot of balls hit well. IPL 2020 has not gone as Super Kings had planned, but it has heralded the Jadeja batsman in the shortest format.
In the last three years, he had already lifted his test batting to get numbers that specialized batsmen would be happy with an average of 48.61 over 24 matches. But in the shortest format, Jadeja’s batting had never reached these heights on any uniform basis. Prior to this tournament, his IPL stroke average (24.08) and strike rate (122.66) were fairly common.
This year, these numbers are out of sight. His strike average of 46.40 and the strike rate of 171.85 are the best for his team. Better than Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis, faster than Sam Curran and MS Dhoni. Looking at his smart stats, the value of his fast scoring is clearly obvious: Jadeja’s Smart Strike is 195.27, the fourth best in the entire league. He is ahead of Hardik Pandya and only behind Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran and AB de Villiers. Or put another way, his batting has been as effective as the gentlemen.
The batter Jadeja has been among the best finishers in IPL 2020 with almost every measure. In a team plagued by bats worries, he has been an unheralded superstar.
“This season he has been fantastic,” Dhoni said after the win against the Knight Riders. “He’s been the only person on our team who’s taken the job of scoring races in the last couple of overs. The good thing is, he’s very balanced in the end. He knows and believes in the kind of talent he has and he has looked to score everywhere, he does not just use his power, sometimes he has scored through the point region if the field is up.
“I feel like he needed someone else with him throughout the season, so we could have been good. Most of the sides have at least one or two hard hitters in the order who can capitalize on the last three or four overs.”
Jadeja has done this despite the fact that he has mostly beaten No. 6 this season. Unlike Pollard, he has not had the luxury of a top order that also shoots. Unlike Pooran and de Villiers – when he is not protected from leg-spin – he has not had the luxury of the time in the middle before he exploded. Despite that, he has been in their league.
That he has not had enough time could be one for the Super Kings after the mortem of the season as they lean back to dissect what went wrong. Jadeja has hit 135 balls in 11 innings so far, but was only rejected five times. He averages over a little over 12 balls per. Inning while being rejected once every 27th ball. Scoring at that speed and getting out so infrequently should lead to a promotion in the stroke order so the team can maximize its tools, but that has not happened.
The Super Kings acted according to the inherent logic of this, which is why Curran earned promotions. But maybe they missed a trick by not promoting Jadeja too. Dhoni, for example, have beaten Jadeja in almost every game and there is a huge gap in their numbers.
Jadeja came in at No. 7 in the Super Kings’ first defeat against the Knight Riders, with 39 to get in 2.5 overs. He ended up hitting 21 * out of eight balls.
In the Super Kings’ second match against the Delhi Capitals, he was at No. 6 and walked in 3.3 overs back in the first half. He hit 33 * out of 13 in a match, Capitals won the penultimate ball.
Even on Thursday, when Jadeja went in, there were only 2.4 overs left and the Super Kings needed 33 to win. “I think it was one games where the climax went in our favor, “Dhoni would smile and say after the match. But could more than one have gone to their advantage by utilizing their resources – in this case a fighter in first-class form – better?
There is something to be said for holding a player back and sending him in when there is limited time left in the game due to how individuals work. You can bat with a free mind and be at your most effective, perhaps when you know there is only one way to play. This has certainly been the case for Dinesh Karthik, for example, who averaged 50.5 at 183.6 when he came in after the 15th over against 18.88 at 127.8 when he came before the 15th over since IPL 2019.
“The last 12 balls you do not have to think too much, just watch the ball and hit the ball,” Jadeja would say after his latest innings. “I knew that if they toasted in my arc, I would definitely look like hitting a six. That was the simple planning behind it.”
Fleming seemed to echo a similar mood, almost suggesting that too much time in the middle can be counterproductive. “He’s very free,” Fleming said. “At times he has almost tried to play too smart, but now he just plays freely and sees the ball and just hits it beautifully.”
On the other hand, Jadeja in IPL 2020 has shown that he can also bat long. He was given the opportunity to do so after the collapse of the top order. He had 50 off 35 against Sunrisers Hyderabad and 35 * off 30 against Rajasthan Royals. In a format where hits are far more likely to fail than succeed, an effect that magnifies when you play at No. 6, Jadeja’s success has been remarkable.
The Super Kings have only one match left, but even if it does not affect qualification, it is worth investing a little more in Jadeja, the batsman.