He now has the confidence, skills and ability to scare bowlers
Chennai needed 26 from the last 12 balls. They had lost MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina in the 18th over. The odds were stacked in favor of the bowling team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. In went Ravindra Jadeja to smash two sixes and two fours in the 19th round.
The balls he picked and the shots he played reflected his abilities. He has two primary scoring methods and areas against pace: getting the right leg out of the way and targeting the region between long-on and square play; and from the same position, flay wide yorkers through the point-third region. The two sixes in this game were in the former area, and the two fours in the latter. You rarely see him go over covers or long-offs, or play scoop over the short-legged leg field.
About a week later, in the match against Rajasthan Royals, in the 20th over, he decided to go down on one knee before Mustafizur Rahman had released the ball and played two daring shots aimed at the vacant field on the side. Of course, Jadeja could predict Mustafizur’s plan from the field, but his audacity in attempting these shots spoke volumes about his belief in his abilities.
In the first half of the season, there was a match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, where he collected 36 races in the final over.
Harshal Patel had an incredible season – and match – until it was over. It was a slow, gripping surface, the kind that suited Harshal’s skills. As is often the case in deaths, the pressure rose and the bowl went wrong. But just as much as it was about Harshal bowing under pressure, it was just as much about the frightening presence of the batter at the other end. We’ve seen bowlers bowl regular balls to others like Russell and Kieron Pollard, and viewers scratch their heads and wonder why they couldn’t implement simple plans. To some extent, this is because when good balls are sent to sixes, with a knock-on effect, bowlers end up discarding loose balls afterwards.
Batting in limited-overs cricket is about the right combination of skill, faith and intimidation. Jadeja’s performance with bats in the last few years suggests that he now has all three.
He has always had the skills to hit, but converting shot skills to consistent running scoring can be a difficult proposition for someone who hits lower in the order. For lower order hiters, race scoring has a lot to do with understanding the game situation. It took some time for Jadeja to become properly acquainted with the demands of the role in that regard.
Skills alone can only take you that far. T20 matches move really fast in the last overs, and even if you have the skills to hit certain shots, it takes tremendous faith to wait for the right ball to play them. Meanwhile, every pass ball that has not resulted in a limit increases the chances of the hitter trying something that may not necessarily be his strength. You are only waiting for the right opportunity if you have an unshakable belief that you can make the most of it when this opportunity presents itself. Jadeja’s approach to batting has begun to reflect this belief.
There is something to be said for giving yourself a few deliveries at the start of an innings to spot you as a batter, no matter how horrible the situation is – the chances of you being able to compensate for the two deliveries that only produced singles, is much higher if you are still nearby later and able to take advantage. The key to hitting in the last overs is to give yourself a ball or two at least, but that can only happen if you have a huge belief in your skills. We see Jadeja doing it regularly now. He’s happy to knock the ball around for singles before settling on offense.
The final bit of completion in white ball cricket is intimidation, which takes serious and consistent action on the part of the batter. If you’ve done it a few times, the bowlers start spending much more time at team meetings, going over hours of footage to see how and where you hit big shots, and of course planning your dismissal. But few people are aware that this practice can also have a negative impact on the bowler’s psyche, because it helps to sow fear. All that is needed is a good shot from the much-studied dough against a bowler who fails under pressure. Jadeja is also rapidly building this reputation.
Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of four books, the most recent of which is The insider: Decoding the cricket craft. @cricketaakash