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Bit by bit, piece by piece, Ravindra Jadeja almost keeps India's dream alive

Bit by bit, piece by piece, Ravindra Jadeja almost keeps India's dream alive

Ravindra Jadeja stood still. Head down. Just for a tiny moment.

He caught his breath. Gathered his thoughts. The Indian fans were dancing, chanting, shrieking, celebrating his half-century. He then twirled his bat in his familiar sword fashion in the direction of the dressing room. He then raised his hands high, and spread them wide, looking in the direction of the commentators' box at the Brian Statham End, as if to say something to one particular gent sitting inside: Sanjay Manjrekar. Jadeja seemed to tell Manjrekar in Denesh Ramdin style : "Yea Sanj, talk nah."

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Last week, Manjrekar had said that he did not believe in "bits-and-pieces" cricketers like Jadeja in ODI cricket and preferred specialists in the Indian XI. Unusually for a quiet person, Jadeja retorted strongly, tweeting: "Still i have played twice the number of matches you have played and i m still playing. Learn to respect ppl who have achieved.i have heard enough of your verbal diarrhoea.@sanjaymanjrekar."

The tweet created more than a ripple. Jadeja had his team's support all right. Vice-captain Rohit Sharma said it was not right for analysts - without naming Manjrekar - to keep "yapping". However, perhaps unwittingly, Manjrekar seemed to have spurred Jadeja on. Jadeja was smart to understand that deeds speak louder than words. No one understands that better than athletes, with the possible exception of Nick Kyrgios.
Are you not entertained?: Ravindra Jadeja answers his critics Gladiator style IDI via Getty Images

Jadeja might not have the gift of touch that Kyrgios has, but unlike the Australian tennis player, the Indian allrounder is dogged. On Wednesday, the reserve day of the first World Cup 2019 semi-final, he had walked in to join MS Dhoni with India needing 148 runs from about 19 overs. This was only his second match of the World Cup, the first in India's last match of the group phase, against Sri Lanka, where he was not needed to bat.

The pressure was immense. But Jadeja got into the act quickly. With Jimmy Neesham feeding him in the slot, Jadeja hit one over deep midwicket for a flat six, the first of the stuttering Indian innings. Indian fans, silenced by the early massacre of the top order at the hands of Matt Henry, in the main, sensed something. Jadeja kept the tempo up, and "O Ravi Jadeja" became the background score for nearly the next hour and a half as he hit 77 from 59 balls. From No. 8.

While Dhoni quietly found the singles, Jadeja chose to attack the bowler. Even Mitchell Santner, who had dried India's run rate in the middle overs by making use of the turn on the pitch, was hit for two sixes in successive overs. When Santner fired an arm ball, Jadeja was ready to flat bat it. Spin or pace, it did not matter to him.

Neesham and Lockie Ferguson grimaced as Jadeja read their faster balls, their slow bouncers, their short-pitched stuff with ease and countered them with power and confidence. Ferguson set an attacking field with no long-off, and Jadeja hit a length ball high into the stands there for a six.

New Zealand knew what Dhoni was capable of at the death, whatever the run-ball equation, but Jadeja might have surprised them. He had done it in the first half - or the first day - of the game too. He ran through his ten overs in next to no time, returning 1 for 34. He was India's most economical bowler. The wicket came from a beauty, bursting through Henry Nicholls' defence with one that pitched on length, drew the batsman out, and then turned into him before hitting the stumps.

The Old Trafford pitch was two-paced and gripping, there was a bit of turn too. Perfect for Jadeja. There were Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in front of him.

In the 24 deliveries Williamson faced from Jadeja, he scored 17 runs. But the Indian's grip over the New Zealand captain is easily gauged from the number of dot balls there - 14. However, it was Taylor who Jadeja tormented. In the 21 balls he faced off the left-arm spinner, Taylor played 17 dot balls, while picking four runs, all singles.

Jadeja was accurate and disciplined. He pitched on a good length and varied his pace. On flat surfaces, Jadeja usually fires the ball in, but on a pitch like at Old Trafford, he slowed it down while also mixing his pace. According to Murali Kartik, former India left-arm spinner, Jadeja gave the batsmen barely any scoring opportunities. Not too full, not too short; almost everything was played to fielders.

Oh, before we forget, there was that throw to send back Taylor too.

Although he failed to take India home, Jadeja did play a memorable innings.

When at home, Jadeja rides his horses to relax. On Wednesday, despite Dhoni's presence, Jadeja grabbed the whip and cracked it, for a while. For that period, 84 minutes, he dictated not just the run flow, but also the decision-making of the New Zealanders. He pushed Dhoni for twos, and Dhoni did not mind. The key was to keep building that partnership, keep taking forward that momentum. It nearly worked.

Kohli said India's dream was shattered in the first 45 minutes of the chase. While he was out there, Jadeja kept that dream alive, flickering. Bit by bit, piece by piece.

Afterwards, Manjrekar responded: "Well played, Jadeja." And later told the host broadcaster, "By bits and by pieces, he just ripped me apart today."

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