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The Mid-Off Blues
Sunil Gavaskar once said that getting the India cap was no longer as difficult as it used to be. Dead right. With so much cricket being played across the world, and with wear and tear on the rise, newer players, often not of international calibre, get a look-in far more easily than their predecessors ever did. One-season wonders, two-match sensations and their ilk are in plenty.
But if your name is Ajay Jadeja, getting into the Indian team is probably the toughest thing in the world. Tougher than gaining acceptance in the fickle world of films. The cricketer who once looked set to be India's captain, at least in odis, was exiled after being banned from playing cricket for five years. Last week, with the Supreme Court refusing to stay the Delhi High Court's interim order to allow him to play domestic cricket, Jadeja moved one step closer to playing cricket. But representing India still remains a distant dream. While dismissing the bcci's petition for a stay, the Supreme Court said: "He (Jadeja) has been allowed to play only domestic cricket."
Jadeja refuses to comment on the order, saying he does not understand legalese. For the present, he is happy playing for Air Sahara. He scored 45 and a 101 off 78 balls in two appearances on Delhi's local circuit. Obviously, he is pleased with his first taste of competitive cricket in a long, long time: "It's great to be back. I still dream of playing for India again. Cricket remains my first love. I just want to play."
The boyish princeling—from the family which produced Ranjisinhji and Duleepsinhji—was one of the most flamboyant Indian cricketers of the 1990s, both on and off the field. More than 5,000 runs in one-dayers, with six centuries, and a score of 50 or above in every fifth game he batted in. A strike rate of 70 and an average of over 37 per innings. When the match-fixing ban was slapped on all his cricket—domestic and international—he was only 29, and still growing as a cricketer. For Jadeja, it virtually meant the end of the cricketing road.
In the three years he has been away, both Jadeja's place in the side and the flamboyant image have been usurped by Yuvraj Singh. Like Jadeja, he too is a flashy batsman and excellent fielder. Another middle-order batsman whom Jadeja will have trouble dislodging in the one-day side is Mohammed Kaif. His and Yuvraj's joint effort helped India win the NatWest Trophy in England last year. At the World Cup, Yuvraj came good when it mattered and Kaif was consistent. So for Jadeja, getting back to the national team will be a tough task. Add to that the small matter of age—Jadeja is 32, while Yuvraj and Kaif are just 22.
Jadeja once said that among all the people who were punished in the controversy, he was the worst-hit. Azharuddin's career was almost over, Ajay Sharma was never really a national player, and outside India, the late Hansie Cronje was the only one to accept all charges. His partner in crime Herschelle Gibbs is back with a bang in international cricket. Jadeja has fought bcci in the courts, and an arbitrator appointed by the Delhi High Court overturned the ban last year, holding that bcci's probe was one-sided. But the Board contested that ruling. In the meantime, he aged by three years, got married to childhood sweetheart Aditi Jaitley, acted in films and even opened a restaurant.
But to the man on the street, like the 1,000 spectators present at the two matches he played last week at Delhi's Karnail Singh Stadium, Jadeja seemed to be on his way back into the national side. Jadeja, more than anybody else, knows he has a long fight ahead, because his opponents in the court (read bcci) still hold the cards when it comes to team selection.
If the court rules in his favour, will the Board give Jadeja what he wants most? The finish will be nail-biting.