Ravindra Jadeja bowled 23 overs and conceded 76 runs and took five wickets. (Source: Reuters)
Like death and taxes, Jadeja too is a grim inevitability on a crumbling, dust-splaying pitch. Few spinners around the world have mastered the art of bowling on deteriorating surfaces as Jadeja. Such is his control that he hits a spot at considerable pace session after session. Sometimes those balls turn, sometimes not. Batsmen confess it’s a deadly combination.
With the SSC pitch becoming progressively worse, the left-arm spinner came into his own on Sunday. He bowled 23 overs on the fourth day and prised out five wickets as India bowled out Sri Lanka for 386 runs to win the second Test by an innings and 53 runs. In the process, Virat Kohli & Co also took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
This wasn’t a case of the wickets walking into his pocket off the splintering surface. It was laborious, and the unusual toil (16 overs, 76 runs, 0 wickets) seemed to unnerve him for much of Saturday. He felt frustrated — in fact, he mirrors the mood of the team — as he flirted the outside edge of batsmen numerous times, and when the edges were induced those would contrive to elude the fielders’ grasp or fall short.
It took a characteristic indiscretion from Sri Lanka skipper Dinesh Chandimal to reverse his fortunes and mood. He’s the sort of bottom-handed batsman prone to stabbing at the ball when pushing forward that thrills Jadeja. So he floated a delivery at him, cajoling him to thrust forward. But the delivery upon pitching spun a little away, grazing Chandimal’s outside edge. Chandimal’s wicket was a body blow to the Lankans, as he was not only their second most experienced batsman but also one of the most adroit sweepers around. Had his sojourn been lengthier, he could have drilled in more desperation into the Indians. Kohli and Co, certainly, are more aware of his capabilities.
Unlike Chandimal, others such as centurion Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews made a concerted effort to counter him within the line of the ball. It seemed to pay off. Even though the rare ball spat and whirred past their bats, Jadeja was unable to purchase sharp turn or bounce. Most of his brutish deliveries were leaving them, which they managed to keep out by the skin off their teeth. Mathews, then, launched him for a brace of sixes, from the crease, without any discernible footwork, but using the massive strength of his arm to despatch the ball.
This set forth a curious passage of the game, wherein Mathews pulled down the shutters on the scoring and Karunaratne strolled to his sixth Test hundred, albeit after being reprieved by KL Rahul’s greasy palms at short-leg.
But not for long could a batsman cope with Jadeja on this surface, a fizzer would explode from the netherworld any time. One needed copious ounces of fortune to survive.
One such whipper-snapper had Karunaratne’s name stamped on it. He has built a reputation of a second-innings specialist, as four of his six hundreds have arrived batting second. But none so in such mortifying circumstances. He was doing his bit, firm in defence and clear-headed when attacking, in fact the only Lankan batsman who trusted his forward defence. Though he seldom stepped out, he front-foot stride was long and certain.
But this one from Jadeja was un-defendable. He was committed to the front foot, and though the ball pitched an inch shorter than usual, his reach might have snuffed the danger. He stretched his front-foot, but the ball sprang up, as if the ground underneath was fitted with an invisible pinball machine. It exploded onto his gloves and lobbed to Ajinkya Rahane. Karunaratne loathed his luck, as he retreated to the dressing room after nearly six hours of attrition.
Thereon, Mathews was waging a lone battle. But like Karunaratne, he got another of Jadeja’s incomprehensible fizzers in his next over. It might seem like an accidental set-up. But it wasn’t. The previous ball pitched a little fuller and at fourth stump crept along the carpet, threatening to injure his shin. The next was shorter and wider, begging to be cut. Only that the ball hopped onto him. Mathews, already committed to the cut, stood frozen. The edge flew head high to Saha, who proved why he’s still the best wicket-keeper in the country.
Dilruwan Perera was beaten in the flight to be stumped. Jadeja wagged his index finger in delight. His mood had changed—there was more of that raw ebullience—and so had the mood of his teammates. While he might not roll up the turf and take it along to his sprawling bungalow on the Rajkot-Jamnagar highway, he could have taken a selfie with the turf with a note: the one that tested my patience.
As for Sri Lanka, these is still some hope. Though they were comprehensively outplayed over the four days , one senses there is still great resolve within a squad who were made to look all too callow in the capital city. And Jadeja, their Colombo hangman, would miss the Pallekele Test.