Ravindra Jadeja celebrates a wicket
© AFP

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The real Jadeja

Behind the derisory nicknames is a loyal young man who has made the most of life's hard knocks

Sidharth Monga |

There is an instructive story about the origins of Jamnagar, and it could well be a myth. After Jam Rawal, the ruling prince of Kutch, avenged his father Jam Lakha's murder at the hands of his greedy and scheming cousins, he dreamt that the goddess Ashapura asked him to cross the waters and take his kingdom into Kathiawar, a peninsula on the Arabian Sea between Kutch and Khambhat. And so Jam Rawal moved, and began to look for a capital. On a hunt one day, he saw a hare fight tenaciously against wild dogs. The Jam is said to have thought: if this land can bear such brave hares, how brave might its men be? The place became his capital, Nawanagar, now known as Jamnagar, close to the Gulf of Kutch.

One of the Jam's father's cousins was a Jadeja, from a princely warrior clan that continued to rule parts of Kutch until India's independence. The Jadejas were an example of the sort of men Nawanagar produced, the kind the Jam had imagined back in 1540.

The days of kings and warrior princes are long gone in the world's largest democracy, but the yearning for lost splendour, the retention of certain historical quirks, and the remnants of royalty have made for great literature and cinema.

"You wander outside, I will hit. You so much as look outside, I will hit. I want Cricket Bunglow, home and studies. That's it" Jadeja's first coach

Yet it was unlikely when in the Jamnagar of the 1990s, Anirudhsinh Jadeja, a father of two girls and a boy, an occasional security guard without a fixed income, let his youngest child, Ravindrasinh Jadeja, take up the royal sport of cricket, once played there by such personages as Jam Ranjitsinhji and Jam Duleepsinhji.

Cricket was not young Ravindra's pastime; it was his escape, his answer to everything in life that didn't make sense. Even before he hit adulthood, Jadeja knew as much, and had it inscribed on his first car, a black Hyundai Accent he bought with his match earnings as an Under-19 cricketer. "Life is cricket," it said, as it roared on the highway between Jamnagar and Rajkot on hot Saurashtra afternoons, carrying the man who would become one of the fascinating characters of modern Indian cricket.

Life was tough for the children of Anirudhsinh and Lataben Jadeja. They lived in a one-room employee flat allotted to their mother, a nurse in a government hospital. In that regard this Jadeja family was modern. It used to be considered against the honour of the men of the Jadeja clan to have women go outside to work. Their oldest daughter, Naina, who now runs the restaurant Jaddu's Food Field in Rajkot, says their mother, Lata, was a sportsperson herself. She doesn't know what sport her mother played; she also remembers hearing from older folk in the family that Lata used to sing on the radio. Naina says whenever she asked Lata about those days, she never got a straight answer.

Jump, they said: Jadeja didn't quite shine in the 2009 World T20 against England

Jump, they said: Jadeja didn't quite shine in the 2009 World T20 against England Ian Kington / © AFP

The Lata that Naina knew provided for the family. Whatever Anirudh brought home through his sporadic jobs was a bonus. Lata was a woman worn down by the effort of living. Naina remembers fondly how much she and Ravindra would get beaten by their mother. The middle sister, Padmini, would somehow escape by hiding at strategic times. All Naina says about her father is: "He was strict." "Strict" here implies more fear than discipline, more punishment than parenting.

The only son was a darling of mother and sisters alike. Lata made Ravindra sleep next to her, arm in arm. That's how she realised he sleepwalked. That's how she came to know he talked in his sleep. One night she called Naina to hear what Ravindra was saying in his sleep, and they strained to listen. Naina translates from Gujarati to Hindi: "Aye pakad, pakad. Mana kiya na, wahan nahin, yahan khada reh." (Hey, get it [the ball], get it. I told you not to stand there, stand here.)

Ravindra wasn't even 10 when cricket took over his life. It took him away from the tense atmosphere in the house. His mother and Naina encouraged him to stay out long. They were disturbed, though, when he cried every night. They prodded and prodded, but he wouldn't tell them why. One day Naina secretly followed him to his cricket, which was played in bare fields, with boys much bigger than him. Everybody used to bring a rupee to be part of the game, but Ravindra would never get to bat. By the time it was his turn, the bullies would announce the game was over. He feared being ostracised if he told of this at home.

One afternoon Lata, their mother, had a kitchen accident. She succumbed to burns a week later

That's when Mahendrasinh Chauhan entered Jadeja's life. Chauhan, an acquaintance of Jadeja's father, was a policeman, a small-time cricketer, and the coach at something called Cricket Bunglow, in the middle of Jamnagar. Don't go by the name - back then Cricket Bunglow was a bare field with a small building serving as a pavilion. Chauhan is not a qualified coach, but he is a strict disciplinarian with unique methods. To teach spinners flight, for example, he makes a boy stand in the middle of the pitch and asks the bowlers to bowl over his head.

The government-funded Cricket Bunglow was one of two options for eight-year-old Ravindra. If not "accepted" there, he was to be sent to the army school, which meant boarding there and staying away from his mother.

Getting accepted at Cricket Bunglow wasn't easy. Chauhan doesn't want to talk about the conversation he had with the parents when they left Jadeja with him, but he assured them Ravindra could stay if he was sincere about the game. Naina says the place is still known for its discipline. Nobody does "time-pass" there. Chauhan makes parents sign a contract making clear that Cricket Bunglow hasn't taken a penny for its services, that the parents can't make cricketing decisions for their sons while they are there, and that he can beat the boys all he wants.

Hair? Check. Glasses? Check

Hair? Check. Glasses? Check © AFP

A couple of days after interviewing the Jadejas, Chauhan agreed to accept Ravindra, who used to bowl seam-up back then. He didn't have the height for seam, so Chauhan turned him to spin. "He shot in height later," Naina says. "Also, he used to be so fair. Look what he has done playing for so long in the sun."

Cricket Bunglow became Jadeja's field of dreams.

Jamnagar can nudge 50 degrees in the summer. It didn't matter. There was no grass. It didn't matter. Fielding was given importance at the Bunglow. "That's the first thing that stands out about a cricketer," Chauhan believes. The kids used to dive on rock-hard, barren fields in the heat and go back home with bloodied arms, elbows and knees.

Jadeja was a particularly naughty kid. After a day's cricket he would stay back or go out wandering with his friends, who nicknamed him "Revadi". Naina would drop him off on a bicycle ("a bicycle was big for those times," she says), bring him his tiffin in the afternoon, and watch him play after lunch from across a netting, probably sitting somewhere near the Vinoo Mankad statue outside the Bunglow. "It was such a relief to watch him happy and watch him play," she says.

"Look, we have a rock star amidst us," the man said. Jadeja had no idea the man was Shane Warne

Naina could have made a journalist herself. Without letting Ravindra know, she would find out everything about him from his friends. "I would do my CID," she says proudly. Her "sources" used to tell her how he used to run along the top of the main boundary wall at the Bunglow. How he would climb any tree anywhere. The first time the ladies discovered Ravindra walking and talking in his sleep, they feared some spirit from one of the trees had possessed him.

Lata was worried when little Ravindra first travelled with Chauhan's team. Chauhan was told of the boy's sleep disorders. Chauhan asked them not to worry. And this is what Naina's "sources" told her: when Ravindra sleepwalked, Chauhan first asked him where he was going, and when he didn't get a reply, he slapped him hard. "From that day on, he has never sleepwalked."

Chauhan is proud of his ways. He says Ravindra was the one he beat the most. "I used to hit students," Chauhan says. "You wander outside, I will hit. You so much as look outside, I will hit. I want Cricket Bunglow, home and studies. That's it."

No. 1 suit: Jadeja is a fielder first

No. 1 suit: Jadeja is a fielder first © AFP

"Hit meaning? Slap them?"

"Anything. Stump. Bat. Anything."

The first match that Ravindra played for Chauhan, he was asked to bowl the first over. He went for runs. Chauhan persisted with the same strategy in the next match. He went for runs again. "I was fielding at slip," Chauhan says. "I walked up to him, didn't ask him why he is going for runs. In the middle of the ground, in front of everybody, I just slapped him hard. He took five wickets that day."

While Chauhan may have coached through fear, there were certain aspects where he was ahead of his times. The focus on fielding was uncharacteristic of Indian cricket back then. He was big on fitness too. He would often make his boys do 25 laps of the ground, and take them on 15-kilometre "cross-country" runs around Jamnagar once a week. Just the fact that he opened the bowling with Jadeja.

Jadeja was what Dhoni wanted: a selfless cricketer who would do as he was told. If he wanted him to go swing the bat, Jadeja would be like, "Which part of the ground?"

Then there is a unique method of throwing taught at Cricket Bunglow. Underarm. Not like an injured bowler's underarm lob from the outfield. Flat out, but underarm.

"I believe it reduces the risk of injury," Chauhan says. "Moreover, the throw goes parallel. The time you spend getting up and throwing from above, my boys are done sending the ball by then. In run-out situations, even half a second is big. Just throw the ball as soon as you have controlled. Don't even bother getting up if you have dived or slid."

Watch replays of Jadeja's run-out of Brendon McCullum in the Auckland Test in 2014. Ross Taylor pushes the ball past midwicket into a vast open space, McCullum sees a two early and turns around to discover that Jadeja has made quick ground; he slides and throws underarm even before getting up fully, to beat McCullum's dive.

Jadeja turned out for the short-lived Kochi IPL franchise in 2011

Jadeja turned out for the short-lived Kochi IPL franchise in 2011 © AFP

It makes Chauhan proud. The cricket he taught Jadeja was basic. "I used to tell him to bowl at the stumps, and then vary the pace a little bit. Bowl from wider, from closer. The ball has to turn. It doesn't mean sideways turn only, but it should do something different after pitching. Put in effort. I should hear you snapping the fingers when letting the ball go. If you put effort in it, then only the batsman will be beaten."

On a Star Sports show, Heroes, Jadeja is seen teaching a kid how to bowl spin. His instructions are simple too: "Split the index finger and middle finger along the seam, make sure the ball doesn't touch the palm, bowl from close to the stumps, and let the arm go as close to the ear as possible."

It is, as Narendra Hirwani once said, like driving. Work the clutch pedal and gear shift eyes closed, then try other tricks.

A commoner had become royalty by doing what commoners do. What could go wrong? In Jadeja's life, you never ask that question

The family was happy with how Ravindra was doing with his cricket. They would see his photo in the local newspapers when he did well, but the dream of playing for India hadn't yet taken root. He was just playing. The family was happy that he was insulated from domestic tensions.

Ravindra didn't make many demands, Naina remembers. No new clothes, no board games, just cricket equipment. "We used to carry such a big thaila [bag] on the bicycle everyday," Naina says. "Then we bought him a motorbike - a Bajaj Pulsar - on instalment."

That Pulsar didn't stay in the family for long. One afternoon Lata had a kitchen accident. Ravindra's friends from Cricket Bunglow took turns to be by their side while she struggled in the hospital. She succumbed to burns a week later. Ravindra was 15 or 16 at the time.

Golden arm: with the medal for the leading wicket-taker at the end of the 2013 Champions Trophy

Golden arm: with the medal for the leading wicket-taker at the end of the 2013 Champions Trophy © Getty Images

The Pulsar was considered manhoos [inauspicious] and sold off. Ravindra was selected for a National Cricket Academy camp, however, and at 17 he was picked for the 2006 U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, which he played alongside Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara.

During an incredibly tough period for the family, Naina, a nurse herself now, became Jadeja's mother and friend.

"I was 21-22 then," Naina remembers. "I had just taken my nursing exam and was waiting for the results. I didn't even know what you did in a bank. How to write a cheque. How to deposit money.

"I know many players who would have invited you to their room for tea or other drinks to get a good article written about themselves. I don't need it"

"This was also the time when Ravindra's game was picking up. His friends used to tell us he plays well, but we didn't know how well. He himself didn't play for a few days. He struggled to get over the loss. Twelve days after her death we got the news he had been selected in the U-19 team."

In Hindu families, the 10th to 13th days after a person's death are significant. On these days the family of the deceased performs rituals that mark the end of a self-imposed social isolation; they are the first attempts to return to normal life. On the third of these days, Ravindra was sent back to normal life. "As they say," says Naina, "When he [God] takes away something, he gives something in return."

Jadeja might not have demanded things of his parents, but he had a taste for bling. It helped that the IPL came around at the right time. At the first nets session for Rajasthan Royals, in 2008, Jadeja - sunglasses and sunscreen on, long hair, collar up - saw everybody get up and greet a white dude. When the man approached him, Jadeja just nodded from where he was sitting.

Lord's, 2014: out comes the sword

Lord's, 2014: out comes the sword © Getty Images

"Look, we have a rock star amidst us," the man said.

Jadeja had no idea the man was Shane Warne. The name stuck, as Jadeja proved himself to be a bit of a rock star to Warne. Years later, smoking a cigarette while watching Jadeja turn around a Test match at Lord's, Warne would say, "I know he loves strife. Loves a challenge." When Jadeja was selected for the World T20 in England in 2009, life was to change again.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni promoted the 20-year-old Jadeja in a chase of 154 against England at Lord's. Jadeja was scrawny back then. He tried hard, again and again, but could neither time the ball nor muscle it away. Ask anybody what Jadeja is as a cricketer and they will tell you: fielder first, bowler next and batsman last. Here he was getting exposed in a high-pressure game, trying to come off with his weakest suit. Every dot, every single sent the asking rate soaring. He ended up with 25 off 35, with just one boundary. India, the defending champions, went out of the World T20 before the knockouts. A villain was born for the Indian cricket fan. A villain they would laugh at at every given opportunity.

Over the next year Jadeja would have plenty of time to look at his game. Before the 2010 IPL, Mumbai Indians showed interest in acquiring him; he reciprocated, thus breaking league rules. To demonstrate that he ruled with an iron fist, Lalit Modi banned Jadeja for a year, but the team, run by perhaps the most powerful man in India, Mukesh Ambani, got away.

India, the defending champions, went out of the World T20 before the knockouts. A villain was born for the Indian cricket fan. A villain they would laugh at at every given opportunity

"He would just lie around in the house," remembers Naina of the IPL season Jadeja missed. "His food intake went down. Would remain distracted. Didn't talk to anybody. Wouldn't watch TV. We didn't once put on the channel that showed the IPL. We used to let him be."

When Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings picked him up in the 2012 auction, they got themselves a grown man, stronger-built than the boy who froze at the World T20 at Lord's, but that also laid the base for more ridicule. He was now the most expensive IPL player. Part of a plum IPL franchise, trusted by the national captain and managed by the captain's friend, Arun Pandey, Jadeja was enjoying his cricket and the money that came with it. A farmhouse came up; horses, cars, motorbikes, weapons found their way there; the moustache discovered the Rajput twirl; in his abode away from the public eye, Jadeja was living like a Jadeja. Like a king.

Ask him about this, about where he learnt horse riding and swordsmanship, and he says, "This is in our blood. We don't need to learn it." The truth is, Jadeja always yearned for these things. When he didn't have them, he aspired to get them. He learnt to ride on friends' horses. He got it all and more.

On the field, he knew a different kind of royalty: Dhoni. Jadeja the player was happy to be a foot soldier. A rock star happy to be an opening act. Jadeja was what Dhoni wanted: a selfless cricketer who would do as he was told. Jadeja was still a fielder first, bowler next and batsman last. If Dhoni asked Jadeja to bowl over the wicket, Jadeja would. "Idhar se bhi daal saktay hain" (You can bowl from here too), Dhoni's cry would be the heard on the stump mic. If Dhoni wanted Jadeja to slow it down, Jadeja would. If he wanted darts, darts he would get. If he wanted him to go swing the bat, Jadeja would be like, "Which part of the ground?"

Hit machine: early in his career, Jadeja made his name for giving it a belt from low down the order

Hit machine: early in his career, Jadeja made his name for giving it a belt from low down the order © Getty Images

With the ball in hand, Jadeja was cleverer than given credit for. "If the pitch is turning, I want to bowl fast. Not give the batsmen time to adjust to the turn. If the pitch is not helpful, that's when I try to beat them in the air. There is no point showing off your tricks when the pitch is doing it for you." In the recent Delhi Test, in the face of an over-my-dead-bat defensive effort from South Africa on a slow pitch, Jadeja pulled out the tricks: going wide on the crease, letting the arm come down slightly round, and putting all of his shoulder into the delivery. How they fizzed past the outside edge.

Jadeja repaid all of Dhoni's faith. When people were ridiculing Jadeja's first-class triple-hundreds, Dhoni saw a Test bowler in him. Jadeja got Michael Clarke out five times in the home series in 2013. He then won India the Champions Trophy with the ball, in England. With the bat he was a big departure from the past generations of Indian cricket: not for him the 30 not out in a lost cause that would secure his place for the next game.

Long ago Naina asked Jadeja why he bats the way he does. Playing shots, getting out, which is different from how he bats for Saurashtra, as a proper batsman. "He told me one thing," Naina says. "'Should I listen to you or the captain? I have to play for the team.' If you observe, he always plays that way. He will never try to secure a fifty once he has reached 30-35. 'Should I do dhichoon dhichoon when the asking rate is 10?'"

Naina says Jadeja doesn't like talking cricket too much with her, but remembers him saying he wanted to play Test cricket. Dhoni made that happen too.

Ask him about where he learnt horse riding and swordsmanship, and he says, "This is in our blood. We don't need to learn it"

For Jadeja, Dhoni, a practical man, would make exceptions. In England in 2014, Dhoni went out of character to lodge a complaint with the ICC against James Anderson's sledging of Jadeja, which ended in Anderson allegedly pushing Jadeja in the passage between the playing area and the dressing rooms at Trent Bridge. This was a reversal of Monkeygate. India had no evidence to prove the push because the passage was the only place not under camera surveillance. There was no way an England player would testify against Anderson.

Against all advice, Dhoni went ahead with the complaint and fought all the way. The incident hijacked the whole series. All the attention turned to Jadeja. Under siege in the controversy, he took over Lord's, the scene of his downfall five years before, and he did it rudely and chaotically. Coming in at effectively 179 for 6 in the third innings, Jadeja danced at Anderson, swung at almost every ball, and swung like hell. Miss. Miss. Bang. Miss. Bang. Miss. Bang. This was a hare taking on wild dogs if ever there was one. Without a technique to speak of, Jadeja scored 68 off 57 to give India a match-winning lead.

When he reached 50 he brought out that sword celebration. Back home, Naina was stunned he had learnt to wield a sword. "It is very tough," she says. "The sword is so heavy, you can't move your wrist if you carry it. That was the first time I saw him do it. I don't know where he learnt it." He ended the game by running Anderson out. In the stands they sang "Oh Ravi Jadeja" to the tune of The White Stripes' "Seven-Nation Army."

Lord's remains India's only Test win outside Asia since the 2011 victory in Jamaica, and it was fashioned by Jadeja, who not many thought could be a Test player. A commoner had become royalty by doing what commoners do. What could go wrong?

The captain's man: Jadeja shares a dressing room with Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings as well

The captain's man: Jadeja shares a dressing room with Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings as well © AFP

In Jadeja's life, you never ask that question. In the Test after Lord's, Jadeja dropped the under-pressure Alastair Cook on 15 at second slip. A great start to Pankaj Singh's career was ruined, and Cook's 95 arguably gave his career a new lease of life. India lost the Test. The day after the Test, the ICC let Anderson off for lack of evidence. The English media, former Test cricketers among them, got on India's back, asking them to "man up", ignoring the incessant and puerile abuse that formed a part of "sledging". The year would only get worse when a shoulder injury took the fizz out of Jadeja's bowling.

Jadeja played the 2015 World Cup in Australia at about 70%. When India lost the ODI series in Bangladesh just after the World Cup, Jadeja was dropped. For the first time in his career, perhaps, Dhoni was himself on sticky ground in the limited-overs team. The source of Dhoni's power, board president N Srinivasan, was out too. In 2014, Jadeja had tweeted a message that read, "Need new HATERS the old ones are starting to like me." Haters is too strong a word, but the cynics were back again. Correlations were drawn between Dhoni's power and Jadeja's place in the Indian team. There existed some among the decision-makers who didn't rate him.

When I met him in October last year, it was not all that certain Jadeja's international career would resume. Bigger cricketers in his circumstances have used the press to present their case. Jadeja wasn't interested. The first time I approached him for an interview was a day before Saurashtra's match against Jharkhand in Rajkot, their second fixture of the Ranji season. Jadeja had already taken 11 wickets in the first. He was the last one to leave the nets. He spoke cordially, said he went home to Jamnagar in the evenings, and asked me to stay in touch. He gave me a number, which, it turned out, he had stopped using months ago.

That evening as I stepped out of my hotel, I saw Jadeja in the foyer. When I returned, he was there again, coming back in. The Saurashtra team was staying in the same hotel, and Jadeja was going nowhere. I saw him at breakfast in the mornings and in the foyer in the evenings on both days of the match. I nodded once in recognition, but realised he didn't want to do an interview, which I respected: he is the one cricketer who hasn't bothered with learning English or promoting himself or getting himself advertisements. Even with Hindi he only just gets by. However, I did let him know that he should have declined the interview in the first place.

Jadeja danced at Anderson, swung at almost every ball, and swung like hell. Miss. Miss. Bang. Miss. Bang. Miss. Bang. This was a hare taking on wild dogs if ever there was one

On the two days after the early finish to the match I would still see Jadeja in the hotel, always in a Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) tracksuit, with a turban-like cloth around his head. He was not going anywhere near home. He was struggling to adjust to life without international cricket, and his response was to play more and more domestically. In the October heat of Rajkot, with Saurashtra having won two matches already, the coach, Shitanshu Kotak, called nets.

I went to the session to meet Kotak for a story I was doing on the Ranji Trophy. I sat down with him after nets. The last man out was Jadeja, wearing that turban, moustache waxed and twirled, the SCA tracksuit on. They call him chhatrapati [king] in the Saurashtra team.

"Bhai saab, aapne sharminda kar diya mujhe" (Brother, you shamed me), he told me. "But what is it that I can talk?"

"I am doing a profile on you. I have met many people for this, but it is incomplete without you telling your story," I said.

"Two matches, 24 wickets, two fifties. That is enough to tell my story. That will send the message."

"No, I am more interested in how you got here. People should know where their cricketers come from."

"Who else should know? [Prime minister] Narendra Modi?"

Jadeja goes wide of the crease against Australia in 2016

Jadeja goes wide of the crease against Australia in 2016 Greg Wood / © AFP

And we laughed. It was as if he didn't consider that he had done something big with his career and life. He caught me off guard by proposing we do the interview right then, because this time he was really going home. I wasn't prepared for it, but our chat revealed a lot about the person.

I asked him about the turban. He held it in his outstretched hands, the way you do when seeking blessings at a temple. He had recently gone on a 350-kilometre foot journey to Mata No Madh, the house of Ashapura Mata, the goddess who appeared in Jam Rawal's dream. This cloth holds the blessings of the mata (mother goddess), he said.

At another point during the chat, his hands went up similarly. He said his father - "who has also got bored of me being at home all day" - advised him that if playing for India involved begging anybody, he had better come back to Jamnagar.

On the cricket field he torments Michael Clarke one series in one set of conditions, and becomes the popgun firing darts after dropping a crucial catch in another

"I have seen you here for so many days," Jadeja told me. "I know many players who would have invited you to their room and offered you tea or other drinks to get a good article written about themselves. I don't need it. I don't go around announcing new balls, I don't go around saying I am ready, I just do my work."

I told him I was not there to help him come back to the Indian team. I was there to talk about his childhood. Jadeja was miserly with stories. He told me about the days when he didn't even know this thing he played - bat-ball - was called cricket. Never as a child did he think he would make a living out of playing bat-ball. It was just his true love. Being in an open field, running after a ball, diving despite the hard surfaces, exerting himself despite the oppressive heat.

He told me he acquired his shoulder injury during a fielding drill in Australia before the World Cup. When the shoulder is not 100%, he said, you lose that control. It is not about just putting the ball there, you have to put the action on the ball. The bigger victim of such an injury is the confidence.

He was aware of his public image to the point of resentment. He was aware of the "Sir Ravindra Jadeja" jokes. He was also aware that his closeness to Dhoni is considered to have given him more than he deserves. Asked about that, he said, "Dhoni bhai is not an idiot. He knows he has to win to survive. Why will he pick players who will come in the way of his winning?"

In the series against South Africa last year, where he took 23 wickets at 10.82

In the series against South Africa last year, where he took 23 wickets at 10.82 Greg Wood / © AFP

About the Twitter jokes, he just laughed dismissively. It was almost like he was saying, "I used to be beaten in the middle of the field for bowling a bad ball. I have seen much worse at home. Do you think these things bother me?" For the record, Jadeja said, "I know whose opinion matters. I know whom to listen to. I know whom to trust."

"How did you learn it?"

"Life. Life teaches you."

There was deep resentment at his treatment by the selectors and the administration. He mentioned his 24 wickets in his only full series at home, against Australia in 2013. He wondered why he hadn't got another Test in similar conditions. I asked him what the message from the selectors had been. None, he said. I asked him if he had kept in touch with them.

This is when Kotak said: "Chhatrapati? In touch? He doesn't answer anybody's phone nowadays."

In 2014 Jadeja tweeted a message that read, "Need new HATERS the old ones are starting to like me"

That must be the old number he gave me, I said.

No, said Kotak. "It doesn't matter if he loses crores for not answering the phone, but he doesn't. The only way to get in touch with him is to text him, and then he might or might not call back."

At the time of writing Jadeja had made a grand comeback to the Test side, with 23 South African wickets in seven innings at 10.82. He scored crucial lower-order runs, rescuing India repeatedly from 120-odd for 5 or 6. He is firmly the No. 2 spinner in home conditions. He did it as he had done the first time around: without favours, without PR. He is probably taking calls too now.

In 27 years Jadeja has seen more ups and downs than most do in entire lives. On the cricket field he torments Michael Clarke one series in one set of conditions, and becomes the popgun firing darts after dropping a crucial catch in another. He scores three triple-centuries in domestic cricket, but they have brought him more ridicule than admiration. Off the field he is a boy born into poverty who has gone on to discover the splendour that fits his last name by being a loyal foot soldier. And yet that royal life loses its charm in the absence of cricket. A black Accent somewhere in his collection of flashy cars and motorbikes still says, "Life is cricket."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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