Manchester, July 10: The scything bat-twirl was very much in evidence, the Rajput substituting the sword with the willow he had wielded so dexterously. The synchronicity to his movements was as perfect as it had been when he was launching a spectacular counter-attack, in the process turning the hunter to the hunted.
However, the broad grin was conspicuous by its absence as Ravindra Jadeja celebrated a soul-stirring half-century against New Zealand at Old Trafford on Wednesday (July 10).It's been an eventful week for the stellar all-rounder from Saurashtra, the owner of three triple-hundreds in first-class cricket, the taker of 192 Test wickets, the bowler responsible for the dismissal of 176 batsmen in 50-over internationals. He averages 32.28 and 30.60 with the bat in Test and ODI cricket respectively; the corresponding bowling numbers are 23.68 and 35.90. It should hurt if you are referred to by a former international from your own country as 'bits-and-pieces'. It sure did.
So Ravindra Jadeja did what he does best - bowl with guile, craft and control, bat with abandon and freedom, and field like his life depends on it. Boy, does he field! Him on the park alone is worth the ticket money. Paisa vasool. He glides along the turf as if propelled by an unseen rocket, picks up the ball in one fell swoop with not the slightest hesitation, and lets it rip with an arm to die for. You take him on at your own peril. Ross Taylor did that on Wednesday morning, with fatal consequences as Jadeja produced a piece of magic to score a direct-hit on the run from 70 yards away, with one stump to aim at.
That sumptuous passage had come on the back of a stellar spell of 10-0-34-1 the previous afternoon, when he hared through the overs, got the ball to dip and turn and bounce, and came up with a peach to castle Henry Nicholls through the gate. That spell alone made you wonder why he had been out of the ODI side for nearly a year and a half.
And then, he followed it up with the innings of the World Cup by an Indian. Agreed, Rohit Sharma finished with five centuries, each one a masterpiece in its own right. True, Virat Kohli stacked up five fifties on the trot. And KL Rahul stacked up 360 runs, some of them at No 4, most at No 1. True, Jadeja batted just once in the tournament. But did he make the wait worth it! Did he produce an innings of such luminosity that he shaded everything else! Did he soften the bitter blow of sudden-death elimination! Did he ever!
In the end, Jadeja might say his 59-ball 77, scored under extreme duress in an almost impossible cause, counts for little because it came in vain. Because it didn't carry the team past the post, because it wasn't enough to overturn a dismally disastrous start that left the Indian chase floundering at 5 for 3. But its quality transcended the result, the conditions, the situation of the match. It was an innings of extraordinary conception and impeccable execution, of courage and character, of the most glorious strokeplay against pace and spin alike, an innings whose genesis probably lay in the hurtful and insensitive - however unintended - 'bits-and-pieces' comment.
Clearly, Jadeja came out with a point to prove. Maybe to himself, maybe to others. Maybe that's why the smile was missing during the bat-wave that sends fans into raptures. Or maybe, he was just in the zone, aware that the job was only half-done, that the road to victory was still strewn with rocks and thorns, if not snakes and dragons. It was a little strange to see his ritual without the attendant delight or satisfaction, but then again, this was an angry Jadeja.
"I don't think any of us had to say anything to Jadeja after what happened over the last one week," Kohli said with smile. "He was quite ready to just get on to the park. You saw the passion with which he played, we have seen it in Test cricket a few times, he's played knocks under tremendous pressure. In my watching Jadeja for 10 years, me playing with him as well, this is his best knock according to me because of the kind of pressure, the stage we are at, almost out of the game and then he produces that. He was very motivated."
Motivation is a very powerful tool, indeed. It can help you forget the bits, forget the pieces. And just savour Jadeja.
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)