India vs New Zealand: Ravindra Jadeja rides back in spin cycle of high and low

When Ravindra Jadeja returned an economy of 5.90 in the recent T20 series sweep in New Zealand, it was a welcome change for Indian spinners. It was the first time in India’s last four T20 series starting from November 2019 that someone from Jadeja’s tribe had given away less than 7.00 runs per over in a bilateral contest. A miserly spell is not the only ingredient missing from the Indian spinners’ repertoire for some time now. Since January 2019 till the New Zealand T20 series that ended on February 2, only Yuzvendra Chahal had been able to take more than 10 wickets. The top four Indian bowlers in the period were all pacers—Deepak Chahar (16), Navdeep Saini (13), Shardul Thakur (13) and Jasprit Bumrah (11).

The ODIs present a brighter picture. Kuldeep Yadav (37 wickets) and Chahal (32) are among the top five Indian bowlers, starting January last year. They are also the world’s top spinners in the period. And yet, the New Zealand ODI series started with a shock. The first game that India lost by four wickets despite scoring 347/4 had Yadav going for 84 runs and Jadeja for 64 bowling their full quota of overs. They improved in the second contest with Chahal grabbing 3/58 and a miserly Jadeja 1/35.

India captain Virat Kohli seemed to put such fluctuations in perspective, saying “one-day cricket in this calendar year is not as relevant like T20Is and Tests.” While the 2019-21 World Test Championship is on, teams eye the big prize in the T20 World Cup in Australia starting on October 18.

In T20s, be it topping the wicket-takers list or choking the run-rate, the last one year has seen poor returns from the spinners. It’s a major dip from the previous two years when a spinner topped the charts. In 2017 it was Chahal (23 wickets) and in 2018 it was Yadav (21 wickets). Spinners were particularly impressive in the second year with the two wrist-spinners sharing 39 wickets.

Leading up to the T20 World Cup, a settled pace department would calm the team management, but the inconsistency of the spinners may not. In a format like T20, even one costly over can change the result of the match.


One reason for the spinners’ inconsistency could be the team management bringing in new spin bowling all-rounders like Krunal Pandya and Washington Sundar in place of experienced hands in 2019. It was a result of Kohli’s thinking that the team must have the ability to bat deep.

“It’s about finding the best balance we can and not necessarily stick to one kind of combination. If all teams across the world are batting till No. 9-10, why can’t we? That was one of the reasons; also to give opportunities to the guys who have done well in the domestic format and the T20 format, in IPL also,” Kohli had said ahead of the T20 series against South Africa last September.

“You need to take those calls at one stage. Bringing those guys (Chahal and Yadav) at one stage also was not taken well by people. Whatever decisions are made are to make sure the team has the best we can have approaching the T20 World Cup.”

The experimentations have borne mixed results with the falling returns of spinners becoming glaring. However, the one person who has emerged stronger is Jadeja, who has put his bowling discipline to good effect.

It’s a far cry from when the left-arm spinner wasn’t even getting a regular chance in the playing XI due to the success of Chahal and Yadav.

Jadeja’s comeback

Since his debut in 2009 till 2016, when Jadeja was dropped from the T20 team, the 31-year-old had taken 31 wickets in 39 matches averaging 30.38 (runs given per wicket) and scored 103 runs at 8.58. He has again become a regular since the 2019 tour of the West Indies. Since then, he has taken eight wickets in nine matches at an average of 21.12 and scored 57 runs at 28.50.

“It’s his attitude that has seen a major change. Sometimes when you are in that flow you think that your place is secure. But once that insecurity comes in because of competition, you think ‘I can be dropped so I need to work harder’. That’s what Jadeja has done and we are seeing the results as of now,” said Maninder Singh, former left-arm spinner who played 35 Tests and 59 ODIs.

“As far as the thinking behind preferring all-rounders over specialist bowlers goes, it’s a fantastic idea in T20 cricket. Specialists can be reserved for ODIs or Tests. In T20, the other day we saw a bowler like Jasprit Bumrah getting hit for 45 runs in his four overs (in the third T20I vs New Zealand). If we have someone like Jadeja who can bat, we can hope that even if he gives 40 runs he has the ability to score 40 runs in 25 balls as well.”

The way Jadeja (55) fought till the end in India’s chase of 274 in the second ODI against New Zealand to keep victory hopes alive was the latest validation of his value as an all-rounder.

Diminishing returns

While Jadeja has reveled in the competitive atmosphere, Yadav and Chahal have found that they are no longer invulnerable. From taking 12 and 21 wickets in 2017 and 2018 respectively, Yadav has managed just six wickets in four games since January 2019. Chahal’s graph looks the same. He took 23 and 18 wickets in 2017 and 2018 respectively. But from January 2019, he has taken only 11 wickets.

India’s go-to duo since the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, to provide breakthroughs with their variations, Yadav and Chahal have tended to give away runs as well. Their economy rates of 9.08 and 8.86 respectively in the past one year too suggest that.

According to Maninder, chinaman bowler Yadav’s slide started with the 2019 IPL where he took only four wickets in nine matches. “I feel that’s when his confidence got shaken. Also, when one is new, teams don’t know much about you. Gradually as one does well internationally, teams take note of you and start preparing that way. It’s the time when the coach has to come forward to talk to the player and get to the root of the problem,” he said.

Chahal, however, came in for criticism. “When we talk about Jadeja who is bowling so well, when we brought in some competition for him he worked harder on his game, and that is why we are seeing positive results. So, probably our wrist spinners will have to pull up their socks. And we have to show that there is competition,” he said.

“Chahal looks a little casual to my eyes. Somebody needs to speak to him, tell him ‘you’re going down, come on!’ I think that is the coach’s job. They have to really get active. He is a bowler who can win you matches. In international cricket, there is no place for being casual.”

The slump of Yadav and Chahal has coincided with new pace talent as well as old workhorses rediscovering their touch.

“Navdeep Saini has come on really well. He is bowling fantastically. Again, if you see Shami, once he was dropped from the limited-overs sides, he has put in the hard yards. I have seen some of his workout videos, they are amazing. The coaches should be doing the same thing with Chahal and Yadav as well and tell them ‘you are supposed to get wickets and you’re not getting them.’”

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