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|September 8, 1997||
Ajay Jadeja would love get in 40 winks at a stretch. But then if you are the vice-captain of a beleagured team, you have to pay for it, and the earliest sacrifice usually is a period of uninterrupted slumber.
Even if Jadeja drops into a fitful slumber after a defeat, phone calls from irate fans mouthing filthy abuses wake him up, the most printable remark being Kitne paisa liye.
But Jadeja takes it all in his typical wry manner. "It means I get a single room to myself on tour." He knows how tough it is and so won't take it easy. Kumble, after five years of being vice-captain, is out; a few months ago he himself was in the wilderness.
Till recently he was one of the lads, a cheerful bloke who raised the noise level in the dressing room. But as Sachin Tendulkar's deputy and as one of the team's decision-makers, his role changes to that of a leader, calling for a sobriety and a steadiness unsought of him so far.
But despite his carefree image, Jadeja is intensely competitive, a street-smart player who quickly judges the situation. Besides, he also has a mind, the courage and fluency to express himself.
Usually Jadeja expresses himself without words. His commitment, enthusiasm and sheer joie de vivre is contagious as he fields, chasing the ball in the deep, diving desperately to cut off shots. Quite different from the attitude of some of the other fielders who think fielding is a chore. Handed a bat, Jadeja goes for the ball with similar enthusiasm. On occasions he chases those balls outside off-stump and tries some daring uppish drives, but then he isn't the first one to get tempted thus. Even W G Grace succumbed to them.
It is odd that even after a 100 one-dayers, he still has an uneven Test career. But Jadeja knows where to look -- and it's never back. "Not in any wildest dreams did I ever think I'd play so much," he admits, adding, "I consider myself exceedingly fortunate."
Jadeja's strongest virtue is his selflessness. Quite often when he strides in at No. 6, the situation is dicey -- the team is in trouble, desperate measures are called for, but if they backfire, he could soon be out of the side. But Jadeja chances his arm often, once causing even the redoubtable Waqar much anguish during the World Cup.
Jadeja admires the Sri Lankans' committment to training and practice. Ajay himself is no slouch but has to worry about the trouble in his knee. And being constantly on the road, Ajay constantly on the road rest and recovery keep getting postponed.
Weight-training and working out are his new obsessions. Earlier Paaji (Kapil Dev) had told him to run and stretch to maintain flexibility. Now he seeks strength in the legs (for endurance) and shoulders (for throwing) through weights. That, in the long run, may help him resolve that nagging problem.
Unlike other vice-captains before him Jadeja has inherited an odd challenge: to prove that he's as good in Tests as he is in one-dayers. But with that kind of committment and enthusiasm, he shouldn't have too much trouble convincing the selectors.
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