Kedar Jadhav, all 5ft 5in of him, stands on the famous The Oval outfield in the shadow of the iconic old gasholders, and considers how far he’s come.
Behind him, his India teammates are practising ahead of the next challenge. On 4 June, at Edgbaston, India kick off the defence of the title they won in thrilling fashion at the same ground four years ago. And lying in wait at Birmingham for Virat Kohli’s team? Pakistan.
Jadhav, who at 32 has yet to play a match in England, is animated by the unique challenge that confronts him.
“[As a batsman] in India you get settled and then you can play your shots all day long. But here, you’re never settled! You cannot just relax and play your shots, every time you have to focus, because suddenly the clouds will be there and the ball will start swinging! Even if you’re batting on 70, suddenly you will feel like you’ve just came in to bat.”This is not, in fact, his first time in England. He travelled here in 2010 with India A, but injuries cut short his tour before he’d got going. Back then, Jadhav was just another fierce Indian strokemaker striving to establish himself in a culture awash with them. He’d recently made a mark on the IPL, smashing a 29-ball fifty on debut for Delhi Daredevils, and offered a few slivers of evidence to suggest that he could thrive in the four-day game. But the Kedar Jadhav story would take time to reveal itself.
The breakthrough season occurred in 2013-14, when Jadhav made six centuries and 1,223 runs in the Ranji Trophy for Maharashtra. But despite his form earning him an ODI debut against Sri Lanka in November 2014 and a maiden century in his fourth match against Zimbabwe, the depth of talent in India’s batting stocks meant that Jadhav would play just 12 ODIs over the next two years.
He was two months shy of his 32nd birthday when everything changed. It was January 2017. Jadhav had been enjoying another good year for Maharashtra. England were in town for a three-match ODI series, and on the back of those runs Jadhav was given the nod to bat at No.6. The first match took place at Pune, his home ground. Jadhav had already been a jobbing cricketer for a full decade. England batted first and made 350. The local boy walked out with India tottering on 63-4.
“I always felt,” he says now, “that whatever I wanted [to achieve] in my life I would always get it. But [this happened] slightly later in time! But when I got it, it was there for me forever.”
He would play the innings of his life. Jadhav’s atomic power was in full cry that night. With Kohli masterful at the other end, Jadhav wrenched the match from England’s grasp with a devastating display of sustained hitting. When Jake Ball finally induced the false shot, Jadhav had 120 to his name. The whole spectacle was done and dusted in just 76 balls. India cruised home with 11 balls to spare.
A week later Jadhav smashed a 75-ball 90 against the same opposition, falling to the penultimate ball of the innings just six runs shy of the target. It was enough to seal the Man Of The Series award and a place on the plane to England. “Getting Man Of The Series at international level, against a good, strong side – that is when you go up to the next level. Now there’s this question of whether you can do it consistently.”
He is likely to get the chance to find out. Jadhav is slated to start the tournament, and sees his role in the side as that of the finisher, inheriting the mantle from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whom Jadhav expects to stay higher up the order. What has Dhoni, that all-time master of the run chase, taught him? “I’ve been watching him for the last 12 or 13 years,” says Jadhav, “so I’ve observed many things and you get to learn. He’s the kind of person who will always back you, no matter what. He will tell you what mistake you have made, but he won’t show anything in front of you. You feel nice when such a strong and great cricketer backs you. It gives you immense self-belief. And once you are able to do that on the field, there’s every chance you can repeat it every time.”
Self-belief is unlikely to be a trait lacking in any team driven by Virat Kohli. Jadhav makes the point that this is Kohli’s first ICC Champions Trophy as full-time skipper: motivation will most certainly not be an issue. “We won’t leave a single stone unturned. We want this, and we’ll make sure we do whatever it takes to lift the trophy on the 18th.”
Jadhav is well aware of the depth of support India generates on English shores. “Wherever we go in the world we get that support, but especially in England. We feel like it’s our second home. It’s always good to be playing here in England in front of an almost Indian crowd – and obviously the rest of the crowd also.”
An overnight sensation a decade in the making, Jadhav is determined to maintain the right balance in his rapidly changing life. “[My life has] definitely changed, it has added more responsibility on me. But I am a person who leaves cricketing things on the field, and I’ll walk off the field as a normal human being. I look forward to playing with my daughter, going out with my wife and hanging out with my friends. In India it’s
India’s cricketers, so feted back home, tend to enjoy touring England; Sachin Tendulkar often talked of the sanctuary London offered him, of the joys of simply being able to walk around Hyde Park in peace with his family. But for all the space to breathe in England, the pressure is never too far away. This is the reality of the Indian cricketer’s life.
Pressure, though, is not about to hold back Kedar Jadhav. He says he’s been preparing for just such moments since he was a kid. After 15 ODIs he averages 58, and has already played one of the great ODI knocks of the decade. And yet he’s barely taken guard. When your career catches fire at 32, it’s high time to open one’s shoulders and play a few shots. Kedar Jadhav is just getting started.