It was a far-off suburb of Pune with more than a few open spaces. One such space in Paramhans Nagar, the jeep ground, as the residents call it, was a hub for tennis-ball cricket enthusiasts from the area. And one boy, the youngest of the lot, was being noticed.
Kedar Jadhav, whose home was a short walk from the ground, had built a reputation as a tennis-ball star in his early teenage years not just in Paramhans Nagar but across western Maharashtra. He had helped Rainbow CC win a plethora of tournaments — from two-overs-a-side to 25-over games.
Kedar could have continued down that path and not made the transition to the professional game, and his father Mahadev sensed that. His three daughters had focused on their education and earned postgraduate degrees, but he let his youngest child pursue his passion.
And it was time to channel that passion.
In less than three years after transitioning to serious cricket, Jadhav was picked for the Maharashtra under-19 team. He warmed the bench through the league stage, but finally got an opportunity in the quarterfinal against Kerala. He made it count and how, hitting 195 at the Nehru Stadium in Pune.
The jeep ground in Pune’s Paramhans Nagar where Kedar Jadhav first turned eyes. - Jignesh Mistry
While Jadhav toyed with a hapless Kerala bowling attack, Dilip Vengsarkar, the former India captain who then headed the talent identification wing of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and former Maharashtra captain Surendra Bhave were thrilled.
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“The manner in which the ball was whistling around from his willow was just unbelievable. What also impressed me was how casually and nonchalantly he was going about his business,” recalls Bhave, who later played a part in Jadhav’s journey to India colours.
“Tennis-ball cricket exposes a batsman to different challenges. From scoring only on one side of the wicket due to the size of the ground to playing in different over formats, it throws up constant challenges. Most importantly, irrespective of the situation of the game, a batsman is never expected to drop his guard and press for victory all the time,” he says. “It’s phenomenal that Kedar has translated all these qualities on the cricket field, even at the highest level.”
Maverick with the willow
M. S. Dhoni with Jadhav’s parents. - Photo courtesy Kedar Jadhav’s Instagram
Jadhav’s unconventional ways carried on from his tennis-ball days to first-class cricket. Once when a senior pace bowler sledged him, he told him he would bat left-handed against him for the rest of the innings. While he faced the other bowlers as a right-hander, he switched over for that one pacer and walloped him.
Another time, after a tiff with a left-arm spinner in a local game, Jadhav told him he would sweep him every ball, and that’s precisely what he did.
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But Jadhav had to fight for a regular spot in the Maharashtra XI, finally getting promoted to No. 4 after being shunted to No. 7 in the batting order. While he had an average record in first-class cricket, he was exceptional in the limited-overs formats – he averaged in excess of 50 in 50-overs cricket in four of the eight seasons before his India debut in 2014.
That gave him a regular spot in India A’s white-ball tours, but, as is the case in Indian cricket, a big Ranji Trophy season is usually a prerequisite to making the national squad. That came in 2013-14, when Jadhav amassed 1,223 runs, with six hundreds, to lead Maharashtra’s charge to its first Ranji final in more than two decades.
Bhave, who was a Maharashtra selector when Jadhav made his first-class debut and coach in 2013-14, had worked with him on his back-lift and head position through the off-season but was still stunned with his confidence during the quarterfinal win over Mumbai.
“Kedar and Vijay Zol had survived the new ball till lunch on the fourth day. As he was getting ready to go in, I told him to be careful against Zaheer (Khan) and he responded with: ‘Let it be Zaheer or anyone, I’ll whack all of them and finish the game in this session’,” says Bhave.
The chase was over 11 minutes before tea.
Jadhav’s unbeaten 120 helped Maharashtra cruise to a victory target of 252 on the seam-friendly Wankhede Stadium pitch.
That innings in January 2014 was the beginning of a memorable year for Jadhav. A month later, he fetched ₹2 crore in the Indian Premier League auction and fulfilled a long-cherished dream of owning a BMW.
In a quadrangular A series in Australia that followed, he was named the player of the tournament despite being away from cricket for two-and-a-half months with a fractured wrist.
By November, he had earned his India cap, in a match against Sri Lanka in Ranchi, just a few months shy of 30.
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With the Indian team management giving an additional thrust on fitness, Jadhav changed his lifestyle. He started eating non-vegetarian food to have more protein in his diet. He cut down on fats and carbohydrates, and started training to keep in shape.
In addition, his round-arm off-spin bowling is not just effective, but also pivotal in Jadhav earning a spot in the middle order.
Throughout his rise, the fact that his support system has remained the same has helped a great deal. His family and his childhood sweetheart Snehal, who now is a proud mother to their daughter Meeraya, have stood behind him, along with Nandan Thakur, his tennis-ball captain at Rainbow whose team New Union Cricket Club saw Kedar creating flutters in the Pune District Cricket Association League.
Reserved by nature
Neither Jadhav nor those he has termed “my people” are forthcoming about him.
Despite his easy-going nature in the dressing room — the ability to imitate Salman Khan, even his dance moves, has been popular on social media — his friends insist he has always been reserved, so much as that he is sometimes mistaken as being rude.
Nandan Thakur (left), Jadhav’s tennis-ball captain at Rainbow CC whose team New Union Cricket Club saw Kedar creating flutters in the Pune District Cricket Association League, is still part of the India all-rounder’s support system.
“He is not easily approachable, not because he is an India player, but he is not someone who gets along with everyone,” says Maharashtra opener Swapnil Gugale. “But once he trusts you, he will do anything for you. Being a senior, he expects a lot and is a great motivator. There have been times when his speeches in the dressing room have spurred us on, like during the Ranji semis in 2014-15 when I scored a hundred. But at times, when someone doesn’t listen to his advice and makes blunders on the field, he stops talking to him for days.”
“I am not overtly religious but I believe in signs." That’s one of Jadhav’s favourite one-liners. He has cited it in the past to this writer, sipping coffee along with his friends at his favourite coffee jaunt in his home town.
“Being the positive person I am, I am always in search of good vibes and sometimes these positive signals come from anywhere,” he says.
He has cited multiple instances of it, too. His IPL debut was on March 26, 2010 — his 25th birthday. “I knew I would do something special.” He scored a match-winning 29-ball 50 for Delhi Daredevils against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In the January 2014 Ranji quarterfinal against Mumbai, Kedar and Vijay Zol had survived the new ball till lunch on the fourth day. Jadhav’s unbeaten 120 helped Maharashtra cruise to a victory target of 252 on the seam-friendly Wankhede Stadium pitch. - Vivek Bendre
When he walked out at the Harare Sports Club in 2015 with the Indian team, he saw the words “March 1985” inscribed on the club plaque. “That was the month I was born in, so I knew something special was in store.” He scored his maiden One-Day International hundred, bursting into a dance move by Salman Khan from Dabangg to celebrate.
And recently on a chat show, What The Duck, he revealed that when he scored a match-winning hundred in Pune against England in 2017, he was getting delighted with every run England posted in the first innings. “It was the first time a player from Pune was playing an international in Pune, my family and friends were in the stands, so I knew I will make it count,” he says.
Jadhav will be hoping that the positive vibes continue for the next few weeks in England.