IPL 2024 – Ravindra Jadeja has a new puzzle to solve for Chennai Super Kings

A new signing has played more than him – which considering he plays for Chennai Super Kings – says a lot. He was not required to complete his full quota of overs in three out of eight matches – including two at Chepauk.

On the other hand, having been with CSK since 2012, last week was the first time he managed to face more than 35 balls in an innings. It’s a bit of an inversion of the player he was. People used to say that Jadeja was a fielder first, a fielder second and a batter last.

And it’s so tempting to think that his bowling influences his batting. Jadeja with the ball is always urgent. He never gives the batter time to settle in and he beats him because of it. Is that why every time he goes to bat, he always gives himself a few deliveries to get a feel for the pitch first? Nearly 90% of his innings for CSK have been at No.5 or lower and yet he tends to start slowly. This season, for example, his strike rate on the first 10 balls is 120.75. Even his greatest performance for the franchise, in last year’s epic finale, began with some entirely non-violent singles workouts.

“One of his strengths,” CSK batting coach Michael Hussey said of Jadeja on Saturday, “is being able to get balls into spaces, using his pace to run between the wickets and picking the right times and the right bowlers to attack.”

Jadeja is not, by definition, a power hitter. He’s a pace hitter. This is really why he is relegated in the rankings. There is a much higher chance of facing fast bowling when you come in towards the end of the innings. In 2021, he maximized that strength so much that he wasn’t that far behind AB de Villiers’ strike rate (229 compared to 195) in the death overs.

It is a bit ironic that at precisely the moment he is earning a place in CSK folklore – even winning a title that fans only award to their favorites – Jadeja is facing a crisis not on one but on two fronts. Firstly, the pitches in Chennai do not offer their usual help to spinners. He went wicketless in three of the four innings he played at Chepauk. And second, his touch is a bit wrong. Last season, Jadeja faced just 21 runs in the first 10 balls of his innings. This season, even though we’re only halfway through, that number is already 16.

“He sometimes plays a slightly different role now,” Hussey said, “because the last few years he came in very late, batting with MS (Dhoni) towards the back. And this year we asked him for a few C’ is a very different role and sometimes depending on the situation you just have to be free and go quite quickly But other times you have lost a few wickets in the power play you will have to take some time to build the next partnership.

“I think he does a really good job actually, reading the situation and playing accordingly. I know we see some games where teams are just starting to get going, but if the conditions or the situation of the match don’t dictate it, so you have to play in a different way. I think he does a very good job and adapts to different situations in the game.

Jadeja isn’t exactly great in either discipline – he has a three for, with an overall economy rate of 7.85, and a 35-ball fifty against any of the top four teams. And his morale is pretty good. In the match against Kolkata Knight Riders, he helped rally the crowd by donning his kit and pretending to come out to bat only to turn around and sit down so MS Dhoni could take center stage. It’s just that it almost feels like he has to relearn the whole game. What can he do when Chepauk doesn’t grab and turn? How will he manage higher promotions, which will expose him to situations where he will not have rhythm on the ball to exploit?

Jadeja has gone through his entire career with questions like the ones he has been asked and more often than not, he comes up with an answer that not only shuts people up, but convinces them. “Need new haters,” he once tweeted. “The elders are starting to like me.”

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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