Gritty, not pretty: Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma take India to fighting total

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Ravindra Jadeja scores half a century against West Indies on Day 2 of the first Test in North Sound on Friday. (AP)

Shared News| Updated: August 24, 2019 7:56:33 am
Some batsmen are all wrists, some are all arms, some are all body. Ishant Sharma is all limbs. The way he leaves the balls is particularly hilarious, as if he’s going to swat a pesky fly buzzing around him, before he decides to let it go unharmed. There’s a bit of Courtney Walsh in the way he shoulders arms.

But it didn’t matter how Ishant batted; it was just about survival after Kemar Roach inflicted the early blow by dismissing the dangerous Rishabh Pant, equipped with the ammo to take the game away from the West Indies. Once, he departed, it seemed just inevitability that the West Indies pacers would blow out the Indian lower order. It’s the reputation they’d built over the last few years.

In the last 14 innings, where India had been dismissed, the last three have collectively managed just 88 runs and faced 167 deliveries. It’s not a requirement that the lower-order should always contribute with their bat, it’s often a luxury, but in low-scoring games their contributions turn out to be crucial. It doesn’t necessarily mean runs, but just hanging in there and providing support to one of the regular batsmen would suffice. India’s lower-order has been found wanting in both these regards.

Among the trio, Jasprit Bumrah, a bona fide No 11, Mohammad Shami, chancy as they come, and Ishant, the latter, was supposedly the most competent of them. In the past, he has stuck around, most famously with VVS Laxman in the Mohali Test, but of late, his survivability skills have tapered off. Ironically, he’s one of the keenest batsmen in the nets, but seldom has it translated into the middle. The last time he made a substantial contribution was back in Southampton, with a 40-ball-14, helping Cheteshwar Pujara to complete a hundred, a precursor to those in Australia, and added 32 runs for the ninth-wicket partnership.

Here, it was vital that he stuck on with Ravindra Jadeja. When Ishant strode, India were reeling at 207-7. Their innings could have been folded out for 215, or even less. Three good balls and phew, West Indies’ would have buoyantly walked back into the dressing room. Not so much cheer now. The total they eventually ended up with 297 furnishes them with a fighting chance, especially with their lethal bowling attack. And in reaching that score Ishant’s 19 off 62, his highest score in 45 innings and five years, played a vital role with Ravindra Jadeja, who seems to have acquired a degree in plotting rescue acts, one of the reasons that might have given him precedence over Ashwin. The latter perhaps has a better technique and range of strokes, but Jadeja plays the boy on the burning deck perfectly.

It’s adversity that seems to channelise the fighting spirit in him at the fullest. He doesn’t do it most fluently, it’s never pretty batting, but he gets those runs, tough runs. He would take the blows and stares, he would trash the memories of the balls that had beaten him. He works like wood-cutter, blow-by-blow he fells the tree. His 58 fully embodied his steely spirit. Throughout the 112-ball stay, he didn’t always breath assurance, time and time again arrived a ball that threatened his wicket. Late on Thursday, the DRS had saved him from an LBW, the tiniest of contacts with his edge before the ball struck his pads. On countless times, he was beaten. On numerous instances, he was fooled by the bowler and looked like he would surrender the next ball. He was scratchy, but he didn’t let the scratchiness affect his game.

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But Jadeja is always unruffled. If you bowl a loosener, he wouldn’t let it go unpunished. Anything wide on off-stump, he would look to spank it square, even it entails risk on a surface with spongy bounce with bowlers armed with the heavy ball. He’s also someone who astutely reads match situations and could alter his game accordingly. With Rishabh Pant, an aggressive batsman, he put a price on his wicket, cut out the strokes and diligently rotated the strike. When Ishant came he looked to increase the tempo, but when the latter got in, he again started blocking. Eventually, when Ishant departed, he opened up and found boundaries with placement and force. Yet, there was the leg-side heave off Roston Chase that brought up the only six of the match. It’s his staple, but he resisted it until he was in a position to go for the quick runs. There was also an instance that revealed his dexterity, when he placed Shannon Gabriel, the quickest and bounciest of them all, between the third slip and gully.

The more his alliance with Ishant Sharma wore on—they added 61 precious runs and ate up nearly 20 overs—the more frustrated the West Indies turned out to be. So much so that even the meticulous Roach began to lose his precision. Gabriel tried everything he knew—the first of them is the mean, blood-curdling stare—before a slower-ball yorker nailed him. Neither he nor his teammates celebrated wildly. For, they knew they had squandered an opportunity to pull the rug from underneath the World No 1 side. A scratchy no 8 and a plucky no 9 had wrestled the advantage from the hosts.

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