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The Jadeja conundrum

Express News Service

CHENNAI: When Ravindra Jadeja was named as the vice-captain of the T20I team for the South Africa tour, it did come as a surprise. For one, the left-handed all-rounder had not played for India in the shortest format since August 2022. The last time he took the field in a T20I was during the 2022 Asia Cup during which he got injured and missed the T20 World Cup.

Yet, more than a year on, Jadeja has found his way back to the T20I setup. And being a vice-captain makes it clear that he is likely to play every game available (the first T20I on Sunday was called off due to rain). In a squad that also has Kuldeep Yadav, Ravi Bishnoi, Washington Sundar, it is hard to make sense of what Jadeja’s role would be. What makes it all the more interesting is the person Jadeja has replaced — Axar Patel.

During the time Jadeja was out of the T20I side, Axar played 25 T20Is, taking 24 wickets at 23.95 while operating at an economy of 7.43. With the bat, he has struck 214 runs at 149.65. The batting numbers might not have been as impactful, but Axar has shown what he is capable of with the bat, time and again. Jadeja, meanwhile, has played only in the Indian Premier League during this time, and he had a stellar season with the Chennai Super Kings, helping them win the title in a thrilling final — 20 wickets and 190 runs at 142.86 SR.

If one were to compare the two all-rounders’ numbers since 2021 in the shortest format, there is very little to differentiate them as a bowler. The numbers say as much. Averaging mid-20s with the ball and striking at mid-130s with the bat. In fact, if anything, Jadeja has been a tad bit more economical than Axar in T20Is. Now, it is no secret that both Jadeja and Axar have upped their striking with the bat in recent years. However, as is often the case, the devil lies in the details.

Since the start of 2021, Jadeja has hit pacers at a strike rate of 154 in all T20s. Axar, meanwhile, has hit pacers at 146. The difference, though, is how they take on spinners. Jadeja faced a massive slump in his SR, going down to 94.07 against spinners in the period. Axar, on the other hand, hits spinners at 138.6. Even in the recently concluded ODI World Cup, Jadeja struck at 125.39 against pace and struggled against spin at 74.54.

Now, there is no argument as to the quality fielder Jadeja is or how impactful he can be with the ball when the pitches are on a slower side. However, given the obvious match-up, teams might not take long to bring on spinners against him on such pitches. Which brings the argument to one question — is Jadeja going to be a designated pace-hitter in the T20I team? 

In a team that has the likes of Rinku Singh in the lower middle-order — Hardik Pandya is also expected to come back next year — does his role with the bat get minimal, making him a frontline bowler and gun fielder? If it is a stop-gap arrangement for just this tour, why would Axar — who played the T20I series against Australia after missing the ODI WC — be left out with just one more series (three T20Is against Afghanistan in January) left before the T20 World Cup? 

There are a lot of questions, but not many answers at the moment. A lot could, once again, come down to how the two all-rounders fare for their respective teams in next year’s IPL. For now, Jadeja has a chance to make an impact and strengthen his case in the next two games in South Africa.

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Yet, more than a year on, Jadeja has found his way back to the T20I setup. And being a vice-captain makes it clear that he is likely to play every game available (the first T20I on Sunday was called off due to rain). In a squad that also has Kuldeep Yadav, Ravi Bishnoi, Washington Sundar, it is hard to make sense of what Jadeja’s role would be. What makes it all the more interesting is the person Jadeja has replaced — Axar Patel.

During the time Jadeja was out of the T20I side, Axar played 25 T20Is, taking 24 wickets at 23.95 while operating at an economy of 7.43. With the bat, he has struck 214 runs at 149.65. The batting numbers might not have been as impactful, but Axar has shown what he is capable of with the bat, time and again. Jadeja, meanwhile, has played only in the Indian Premier League during this time, and he had a stellar season with the Chennai Super Kings, helping them win the title in a thrilling final — 20 wickets and 190 runs at 142.86 SR.googletag.cmd.push(function() {googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-8052921-2’); });

If one were to compare the two all-rounders’ numbers since 2021 in the shortest format, there is very little to differentiate them as a bowler. The numbers say as much. Averaging mid-20s with the ball and striking at mid-130s with the bat. In fact, if anything, Jadeja has been a tad bit more economical than Axar in T20Is. Now, it is no secret that both Jadeja and Axar have upped their striking with the bat in recent years. However, as is often the case, the devil lies in the details.

Since the start of 2021, Jadeja has hit pacers at a strike rate of 154 in all T20s. Axar, meanwhile, has hit pacers at 146. The difference, though, is how they take on spinners. Jadeja faced a massive slump in his SR, going down to 94.07 against spinners in the period. Axar, on the other hand, hits spinners at 138.6. Even in the recently concluded ODI World Cup, Jadeja struck at 125.39 against pace and struggled against spin at 74.54.

Now, there is no argument as to the quality fielder Jadeja is or how impactful he can be with the ball when the pitches are on a slower side. However, given the obvious match-up, teams might not take long to bring on spinners against him on such pitches. Which brings the argument to one question — is Jadeja going to be a designated pace-hitter in the T20I team? 

In a team that has the likes of Rinku Singh in the lower middle-order — Hardik Pandya is also expected to come back next year — does his role with the bat get minimal, making him a frontline bowler and gun fielder? If it is a stop-gap arrangement for just this tour, why would Axar — who played the T20I series against Australia after missing the ODI WC — be left out with just one more series (three T20Is against Afghanistan in January) left before the T20 World Cup? 

There are a lot of questions, but not many answers at the moment. A lot could, once again, come down to how the two all-rounders fare for their respective teams in next year’s IPL. For now, Jadeja has a chance to make an impact and strengthen his case in the next two games in South Africa. Follow The New Indian Express channel on WhatsApp

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