Jadeja was obviously joking, referring to the fact that he didn’t take a single catch in the match. He had done all right otherwise: a brutal 62* off 28 first, and then 3 for 13 from his four overs. The batting innings included four sixes in a row – and five overall – in a 37-run last over off Harshal Patel. The wickets included those of AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell. And while he didn’t take a catch, there was the direct hit that ran Dan Christian out.
Turning serious, Jadeja agreed that he might not have had a better day in the field than this one. It was a comeback of sorts for the allrounder, who had been out of action for over three months. Jadeja had broken his left thumb in Australia and had flown back to India with a sling around his neck after surgery. He then missed the entire home series against England, and was expected to join the Chennai Super Kings training camp in the first week of April – only a few days before their opening game – but landed in Mumbai and instead joined their bubble in the last week of March itself.
That he landed there well before time could be because of his freak fitness levels. During an interview last year, R Ashwin had said Jadeja was “a blessed cricketer who is completely, physically fit and these are all things beyond your control”. But what about the things that are in your control? It seems like Jadeja likes to completely control whatever he can. Ask his Super Kings or India team-mates how he trains, how he prepares, how he works in the nets and one of the first things they mention is his work ethic and the hours he puts in.
Jadeja could not jump right into the middle of the action though when he took the field in the IPL after such a long gap. He was “a little nervous” while fielding in the first few games, wary of getting hit again if the batter struck the ball really hard. In their second game against the Punjab Kings, Jadeja was at extra cover instead of backward point. He didn’t care about a muffled appeal against Chris Gayle. He sprinted towards cover point when he saw the batters trying to steal a single, picked the ball up quickly and fired in a throw at the batter’s end to find the Kings’ captain KL Rahul short.
Jadeja was “waiting for a few games to gain that confidence” while fielding before resuming his position at point. But while he has been at the covers, he has been using every opportunity to run batters out, like it was on Sunday too. This time, de Villiers chopped the ball to Jadeja’s left – his natural side – and yet took off for a quick single with Christian at the other end. Jadeja swooped in as usual and hit the stumps yet again.
“I’ve always thought, playing against Jadeja, that he’s always been the most dangerous fielder,” Faf du Plessis said at the post-match press conference. “When South Africa play against India, we always talk about being very careful about running twos with Jadeja on the boundary, because he’s got an absolute cannon of an arm.
“But what he’s really doing well this season is he’s got a lot of energy in the field, he’s diving around, he’s stopping the ball, so he’s really leading from the front in that department. To be so accurate in the 30-yard circle is a great skill to have; not a lot of people can hit the stumps as consistently as he does. At the moment, he’s just really hot as a cricketer, he’s really enjoying his cricket. He’s batting, bowling and fielding really well.”
Compared to a frontline batter or bowler, Jadeja has to put in nearly twice as much work, if not more, in the nets to work on all his skills as one of the best allrounders in the world across formats. MS Dhoni acknowledged after the match that Jadeja had taken both his batting and bowling up a notch in the last few years, and Jadeja acknowledged that he was always on the prowl on the field as well.
“I focus a lot on training and running because in T20s one run-out or one catch can also change the momentum of the opposition,” Jadeja said on Star Sports Hindi after the game against the Kings. “I try to make the most of the small chances while fielding because those can also change the game.
“I have been working hard on my fitness, skills, everything so luckily today it paid off. It’s been very tough being an allrounder, you have to do well in all the departments. During training, I don’t do all the things together on the same day. I just try and work on my skills one day and fitness on next day. That’s how I manage all the workload.”
A batting strike rate of 192.45, the second-best for anyone who has batted more than once this IPL. An economy rate of 6.05 from 18 overs, the second-best for any bowler who has bowled more than eight overs this season. And seven catches, again, second on the list this IPL.
Combine all those numbers and Jadeja will emerge not as the second-best but the best allrounder around – at least in T20s, if not across formats. And he has just started to warm up this IPL.