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On match eve, Jadeja had seemed restless at the net session, desperate to bat and bowl as much as he could to get used to the conditions. He was the last to leave the ground and on his way to the dressing room, he spoke about the unavoidable reasons that took him a week to reach England after being named as Gautam Gambhir's replacement. “Didn't get the visa because of the national holidays. If I had my way I would have been on the first flight after I got the call," said the 22-year-old, who last played an ODI nine months ago.
On Friday, when Jadeja entered the field after the last specialist batsman Suresh Raina was out, he was welcomed to the crease by India skipper MS Dhoni. It all seemed symbolic since India were in the middle of a familiar batting collapse and Dhoni was being joined by an all-rounder, a type of cricketer whose absence the Indian skipper had repeatedly lamented on this tour. With Jadeja in the team, finally, there was life even after the fall of the fifth wicket.
Jadeja took his time to find his stride but once he got his eye in, he was at ease. The games that he played for Saurashtra during the Buchi Babu tournament, before he flew to England, had kept him in good nick. He had a few important knocks, though it was his eight-wicket haul in an innings against Kerala that made headlines. But performing against domestic cricket's lightweights was one thing and facing an attack that had James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann another. But teammates in Saurashtra said that regardless of the quality of opposition, Jadeja sweated it out in the nets regularly. He didn't want to be unprepared if he got a call, which he was somehow expecting.
At The Oval, Jadeja showed why he was once seen as an Indian team regular. He along with Dhoni forged a very useful partnership. The two first settled and gradually increased the scoring rate. Against the pacers Jadeja played late and scored most of his runs square on the off side. Broad tried to bowl short to him but he was quick to go up on his toes and steer it past point. Against the off-spinner Swann, both Jadeja and Dhoni worked the ball around and kept the scoreboard moving. Even when Dhoni was out, Jadeja didn't let the run rate drop. But quite early in the innings, he also showed why he has been in and out of the Indian team.
A close shave
Dhoni called for a run but the all-rounder didn't react, and it was only because a hasty U-turn by the skipper from the middle of the pitch that saw India fashion a comeback. As Jadeja walked towards Dhoni to offer an explanation, the piqued captain sent him back. A couple of years ago in Hyderabad, Jadeja's misjudgement while running between the wickets had seen him and few of his teammates get out, resulting in India losing a close game against Australia. The Indian fans couldn't forgive Jadeja for that since he failed to give the finishing touches after Sachin Tendulkar had scored 175.
There have been several on and off field misadventures that make Jadeja not quite the most popular cricketer around. His name has figured in pub brawls and he was also banned from IPL III for out-of-turn negotiations with other franchises. He is the example that IPL critics give when they talk about money distracting young players. The fact that he owns a horse and rides fast bikes hasn't helped. His return to the Indian team has seen him fashion a new tattoo — engraved on his forearm is ‘Jaddu’ surrounded by flowers. He is the kind who often gets unwanted — and perhaps unfair — criticism.
The last time Jadeja visited England with the Indian team was during the World T20 in 2009. In the game against the home side, Dhoni promoted Jadeja ahead of himself and Yuvraj Singh in the batting order as India chased 154. That proved to be an embarrassment as the all-rounder scored a 35-ball 25, an innings for which Dhoni had to make a virtual public apology to the outraged fans.
But today, with his innings of 78 and the wicket of the dangerous Craig Kieswetter, Jadeja wasn't the all-rounder who messed it up in 2009. Today he was the 'rock star', a moniker Shane Warne repeated hailed him with during Rajasthan Royals’ dream season in 2008.