India picked Kedar Jadhav for the ODI series against New Zealand on the strength of his recent batting numbers. In the Quadrangular A-team one-day series in Australia, he scored 254 runs at 63.50, finishing as the tournament's fourth-highest run-getter. But his first big act against New Zealand would be with the ball.
MS Dhoni's decision to throw the ball to Jadhav in Dharamsala wasn't surprising in itself; he had spent a long time bowling offspin in the nets under coach Anil Kumble's supervision on the eve of the game. It was his immediate success that made heads turn. In the first over he bowled, Jadhav nearly had James Neesham lbw, but Bruce Oxenford turned down a strong shout.
Jadhav, though, had the last word on it, getting both Neesham and Mitchell Santner out in his next over. In Delhi, he broke a 120-run stand by trapping Tom Latham in front, and took his best ODI figures, 3 for 29, in Mohali. Before the start of the series, Jadhav had one List A wicket; now he has seven.
Jadhav's success with the ball has surprised many, not least because they had no clue he could bowl. Former India bowling coach Bharat Arun, who works with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the same capacity, has never seen Jadhav bowl. "He was only a keeper for RCB so he never bowled in the nets," Arun says. "He only used to work on his keeping. Maybe occasionally he would have bowled for fun on one or two occasions, but never seriously."
Jadhav says it was Dhoni and Kumble's idea to groom him as a part-time bowler. The decision, it is believed, was born out of necessity; Dhoni wanted someone to replicate Suresh Raina's role - a middle-order batsman who could sneak in a handful of overs. Raina's failure to recover from an illness has givenJadhav an extended run, and he has now made it that much more difficult for Raina to come back into the side.
While India's batsmen have played Jadhav comfortably in the nets, New Zealand have struggled to decode him. Different theories have been offered as to why this has been the case. Arun feels it's the low point of his release, a consequence of his short stature, that has proved deceptive; Jadhav himself has credited his success to his round-arm action and variations in pace.
The questions, though, remain: how long is the honeymoon going to last? Is Jadhav a fluke or a sustainable solution to India's middle-overs bowling problems? The former Maharashtra coach Surendra Bhave, who has worked with Jadhav since his under-19 days, says the 31-year-old is a multifaceted cricketer.
"He is an allrounder in the true sense, because without too much of an experience in keeping wickets in first-class cricket, he did exceptionally well in IPL as a keeper," Bhave says. "With people who have multiple skills, at times you feel that their success has been flukey, but you can't call it a fluke because he has bowled well in all the four ODIs so far. So obviously he has got some skillsets that were observed by the captain."
During his time as Maharashtra coach, Bhave says he used Jadhav as a partnership-breaker in List A and T20 matches, and says his willpower stood out in pressure situations. "It's fantastic for Kedar to have delivered because even a proper bowler gets nervous bowling his first over," Bhave says. "That says a lot about his temperament and mental strength. He has got this gift of making subtle speed changes in his bowling and he does that consciously."
Bhave, however, says Jadhav's true test will come when he is required to prove himself with the bat. In the three innings Jadhav has batted in so far in the series, he has scored 10*, 41 and 0. "He has done well as a bowler, but we don't know whether it will last for few more games or he actually becomes an allrounder," Bhave says. "We [Jadhav and I] have spoken twice or thrice [during the series] and Jadhav himself knows that he has to make a big score because this is a very strong outfit.
"Whenever he gets an opportunity, he has to nail it; he has to make a big score. His batting in India A and List A cricket has got him there, and he has actually been batting very well."
Arun says Kohli has been a big influence on Jadhav, especially when it comes to fitness. "Jadhav is a really hardworking cricketer, puts in a lot of effort at the gym and does a lot of work on his batting," Arun says. "He would work alongside Virat in the gym. I guess that's where he would have started improving."
Bhave says Jadhav has never looked out of depth at the international level. "If you look at his List A cricket and India A cricket, his record in white-ball cricket has been impeccable," he says. "He has been averaging around 50 in List A cricket and his consistent performances for India A tell us he's pretty happy in the position he is in. At no point in time Kedar suffers from the feeling of inadequacy at the international level, and that's his strength.
"When you are a non-regular bowler, to bowl well in all the four matches is in itself a good achievement. That has an effect on his batting - when he is batting he is extremely at ease and he is extremely confident. Even when you saw him in under-19 cricket, you saw that this boy was exceptional."