Much before he formally marked his ODI return after more than a year, Ravindra Jadeja was the first to enter the field before play on Friday. He walked up to the pitch, measured his run-up, bowled three imaginary balls, fielded a drive off his own bowling, fired an imaginary throw, looked back and even belted an imaginary appeal. Then he high-fived his team-mates, shared pleasantries with VVS Laxman, engaged in an animated discussion with L Sivaramakrishnan, and then joined the huddle. These were signs of clear delight that he was back, even though he exuded the body language of someone who never left.
Only a week ago, Jadeja was in Jamnagar, tending to his two horses, spending time at Rann of Kutch - a barren desert of white sand - to promote Gujarat tourism. He lent finishing touches to his farmhouse titled 'RJ', spent time at his restaurant in Rajkot and trained for two days with his Saurashtra team at their pre-season camp in Delhi before the Vijay Hazare Trophy, India's domestic 50-over competition.
On Thursday morning, he was to prepare for Saurashtra's match against Delhi at Feroz Shah Kotla. Instead, he was asked to board a flight to Dubai for the Asia Cup. He was to replace Axar Patel, who had injured his finger at training. Incidentally, Jadeja had replaced Axar last year too, during the home ODIs against Australia, after initially being told "he was rested." At the time, Axar had picked up a freak injury while playing football, but Jadeja couldn't break into the XI, and found himself out of the squad after the series.
Time away from the ODI squad was spent soaking in life. He's now a father, runs businesses in Rajkot, has become a training freak. He also likes to experiment with his facial hair, hairstyles and outfits. What he doesn't like to experiment with, though, are his bowling methods that have yielded 368 international wickets.
He bowls flat, fast and doesn't give the batsmen any time between deliveries, bowling like a timed machine which is programmed to finish an over in 35 seconds. It's this no-frills variety of left-arm spin that earned him four wickets upon returning to the side for the first time since the tour of the West Indies in July last year.
Jadeja picked four wickets in five matches at an average of 62.25, while conceding 5.92 runs per over at last year's Champions Trophy. In the West Indies series that followed, he couldn't pick a wicket in two ODIs. The selectors then left him out, but insisted he was still part of their plans along with R Ashwin. But, when Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav turned into a formidable bowling partnership, Jadeja was jettisoned.
Jadeja may have been hurt, but it didn't show. He was still picking wickets at home in Tests, toured South Africa where he couldn't get a game, featured in the IPL, played Afghanistan's inaugural Test and warmed the bench for four Tests in England before returning to salvage a floundering first-innings in the fifth with 86 not out at The Oval. He also picked seven wickets. And so while he was away for a year from the ODI set-up, he was always on the periphery, waiting to jump in at the first available opportunity.
Prior to Friday, Jadeja, incidentally, had last picked an ODI wicket against Bangladesh at the Champions Trophy. That was of Shakib Al Hasan, and he dismissed Shakib again in his very first over on return, brought about by a superb on-field partnership between him, MS Dhoni and captain Rohit Sharma.
Jadeja had just been swept by Shakib for a boundary behind square off a full and flat delivery. As Jadeja was about to run in for the next ball, Dhoni stopped him, chatted with Rohit, and Shikhar Dhawan was swiftly moved from midwicket to square leg. Jadeja nodded and slowed it down outside off, allowing the ball to grip and spin in from a length. Shakib wanted to clear the vacant midwicket region but was done in by the bounce and ended up dragging it to Dhawan at square leg. The move worked and Jadeja struck in his first over.
The Bangladesh batsmen struggled to pick which deliveries were going to turn and those that were going straight. Loose balls were few and far in between. This was aided by swift work inside the ring. Now, the batsmen had to manufacture shots. Mohammad Mithun failed once looking to reverse paddle. Mushfiqur Rahim tried to teach him a lesson in execution, but the pressure of dot balls and a stalled run rate showed, and he spooned a simple catch to short third man. This was a typical Jadeja choke.
A slow turning delivery and a full dart had brought him two wickets. Then he turned to bowl in the rough created by Bhuvneshwar Kumar's footmarks. His biggest threat on turners are those that skid straight through. Some batsmen try to play him off the pitch and are beaten by the fizz. Mithun learnt his lessons the hard way, prodding forward and playing outside the line for turn, only for the ball to fizz through to beat the inside edge and trap him plumb.
From overs 16 to 30, Bangladesh scored just one boundary. Jadeja fired in five match-turning overs out of those, that built pressure and led to a downward spiral at the first sign of attack. This was the mastery of a man who has grown up bowling on paata (flat) wickets in Rajkot, where accuracy is king, where there's little or no margin for error. 'Sir' Jadeja left a mark immediately upon return.