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Jadeja vindicates Dhoni’s faith

A strikingly similar tale was unfolding in two different camps in the IPL 2018. One was with the Chennai Super Kings, and the other, with Mumbai Indians. Two proven performers, who have won matches single-handedly for these two teams had their places questioned this time around with their roles also slowly starting to become unclear. Ravindra Jadeja and Kieron Pollard – the two dynamic all-rounders with different styles, who have had a great impact on the success their teams over the years, have suddenly come under the pump at a time when they are supposed to be at the peak of their careers.

While Pollard has often contributed more with the bat than ball, Jadeja was the opposite. One thing they had in common was that they were both excellent fielders. This season, MI didn’t need Pollard’s services with the ball and with the bat – he kept failing. Jadeja on the other hand, was supposed to have a bigger role with the bat apart from his regular duties with the ball. But before CSK’s win over Royal Challengers Bangalore on Saturday (May 5), he had made only 59 runs to go with the three wickets that came at an economy of 8.56.

At one point, MI took the brave call to drop Pollard, but CSK decided to stick with Jadeja. MI’s decision, perhaps, also had a lot to do with the fact that their title defence was in tatters, so they had to change something. CSK, meanwhile, were on a roll in their comeback season and could afford the luxury of backing their star underperformer. MS Dhoni drew criticism for continuously promoting Jadeja ahead of Dwayne Bravo despite the latter’s heroics in the tournament opener and with Jadeja seemingly appearing to have lost his touch; the murmurs grew louder.

With the ball, he hardly made an impact, yet his skipper backed him – something that was seen in the past. Many years ago when Dhoni gave Jadeja a long run in the Indian limited-overs side, he was criticised with the Saurashtra all-rounder continuing to flounder. He eventually came good and went on to establish himself across all formats forcing his critics to turn into admirers. Now, with the World Cup fast approaching, Jadeja has lost his place in the ODI and T20I sides and is fairly being viewed as a Test specialist. The IPL is his only return ticket to the mega event at this stage, but his lack of confidence has been evident throughout the tournament.

With each passing game, Jadeja’s confidence seemingly appeared to have taken a hit. The alarm bell was sounded when he dropped two catches off successive deliveries against Kolkata Knight Riders. That was perhaps the tipping point as even in his worst phase, Jadeja was a top draw on the field. This is where the skipper and the team management came to his aide. Dhoni continued to back the 29-year-old by handing him the ball immediately after the Powerplay on Saturday (May 5) despite having Harbhajan Singh and Karn Sharma as his first-choice options. The result? – Virat Kohli was castled first ball. He followed it up with two more wickets to set up his side’s seventh win of the season and eventually bagged the Man of the Match award.
“I think it’s just about trying to keep him in the positive frame of mind,” CSK batting coach Michael Hussey said after the game. “If you look at his role, it’s one of the difficult roles in T20 to play. With the bat, he might often come in with a handful of balls to play and everyone is expecting him to hit two or three sixes, it’s not easy to come in and straightaway hit the ball out of the park.

“With the ball, he hasn’t got the doosras and the mystery balls, he does what he does and he does it really well. Sometimes, it doesn’t go your way, so from our side, it’s just about trying to keep it positive with him, keep backing him and I think MS has shown in the last few matches that he is keen to keep backing him and we know how good he can be once he gets his confidence up.”

The relief on Jadeja’s face was palpable. After bowling one that went in with the angle to shatter Kohli’s stumps, he refused to celebrate. It also helped Harbhajan Singh settle down at the other end as he went on to remove AB de Villiers and choke the RCB line-up. Jadeja then snatched Mandeep Singh’s wicket in his third over and refused to celebrate once again. He rounded off his spell by getting rid of RCB’s best batsman of the evening, Parthiv Patel, but yet again, nothing changed in terms of his celebrations. He desperately needed this outing. Jadeja was back, and his critics, once again, had no choice but to admire him.
It was important for Jadeja to win back the trust of the CSK faithful and the management. He had been retained ahead of local boy Ravichandran Ashwin and the current squad doesn’t have a like-for-like replacement. With Ashwin reinventing himself as a bowler and doing a stupendous job as a skipper with Kings XI Punjab, it was imperative for Jadeja to vindicate the faith shown in him by his skipper and the franchise.

By Hussey’s own admission, Dhoni is probably willing to show more trust in Harbhajan and Jadeja more than Karn Sharma because of his familiarity with the first two names. It’s also backed up with numbers as Dhoni has allowed Karn to bowl only 5.3 overs in total in five matches so far despite CSK investing quite heavily on the legspinner. If Jadeja is indeed second in the pecking order among the spinners in the CSK group, it only adds up to his responsibility going forward with the wickets around the country expected to become slower as the tournament progresses.

Despite being present in the top half of the table, CSK had a few concerns centered around their bowling. One more box has been ticked now following the performance of their spin attack sans Karn, who can be a match-winner on his day. A Man of the Match performance against an intimidating battling line-up will certainly do wonders to Jadeja’s confidence as his side edges closer to a play-off spot. One handy contribution with the bat is all he needs right now to complete his comeback.

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