Is Ravi Jadeja the most valuable player in Tests?

We make the case for Jadeja as the first player picked in any World XI based on his crazy last five years.

All-rounders become mythical figures in cricket. The ultimate “you had to be there” player. I often talk about the Botham Pringle continuum. You are either a hero or a joke. And the interesting thing about that is Jadeja has been both. Often at the same time.

The genius of all-rounders can't just be seen in their batting or bowling averages. They stretch the team. Give you extra batters and bowlers. They turn 11 into 12. It’s an incredible feat, and it’s why we talk about them so much, even when you look at their numbers sometimes and they don’t seem as sexy.

There never was a middle ground with Jadeja. People either still see him as Dhoni's puppet, the joke, Ashwin lite, bits and pieces, or they see him as the greatest player ever who can do no wrong. Even for an allrounder, he is far more divisive than others. But over the last few years, it would be hard to argue he hasn’t been one of the best players in the world.

You probably don’t remember Jadeja’s performance from the Oval Test in 2021 as well as some of his other iconic performances. He was sent into bat at five in both innings so there's an LHB-RHB pair at the crease. While he didn't score many runs, he spent some time on the crease and built useful partnerships with Virat Kohli in both innings.

He bowled an exceptional defensive spell in the 4th innings. He used the rough to get the ball to cause problems for the LHBs (Moeen dismissal) and returned with figures of 2/50 in 30 overs on a pitch with no help for spinners. Let’s break that down, his batting is so flexible he can be used from five to number eight. He can be attacking or defensive with the ball. And if he can bat at five or six,  that means that India has a legitimate 7 batters and five-bowlers lineup.

Forget the early memes, although some were very funny. That is an incredible player. He can impact a game in so many ways, even when putting in a ho-hum performance.

But the Oval game isn’t what he is known for, it is for never being dismissed and taking a lot of wickets over the last five years. What if the man we all laughed at is the most valuable player in the world right now?

If we are to draft a world XI that is equipped across conditions, forgetting ages, but based on what they’d done since 2018, Ravi Jadeja will definitely make the cut. That is not even really a conversation. What might be is what number he would go to. Is he as valuable as the likes of Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Pat Cummins, and R Ashwin?

Because there is a chance that right now Ravi Jadeja is the most valuable player in World Cricket.

2018 was the start of the bowling era of modern-day Test cricket as we know it. Seam bowling at least. The teams had deeper bowling attacks. Tougher wickets to bat on. The wobble ball completely took over. The format became a lot more result-oriented.

Despite scoring three first-class triple hundreds as a foetus, Jadeja was always considered a bowler who can bat for the first half of his career. However, there was a meteoric shift in his batting prowess since 2018.

Among the 58 batters with over 1000 runs since the start of 2018, Jadeja has the 15th-highest average in Test cricket (as of the Indore Test). What’s interesting to note is the global batting average has been at an all-time low ever since. He started making runs when everyone stopped. And he is a non-specialist. Although every batter in the world wishes he has this record.

Perhaps it is not the best idea to compare a lower-middle batter with a top-order player. So we had a look at the batting averages for the positions 5-7. You can see he’s up very high again, and he’s the only player here who is a frontline bowling option.

Ravi Shastri said that he now has “self-belief” during his innings of 70 against Australia at Nagpur. This happens a lot. Professional cricketers - especially all-rounders - are picked on potential, but they have to believe. That can take time.

Jadeja also has the 8th-best bowling average among the 26 bowlers with at least 75 wickets in this period. Remember, this is a seam era, and yes, he has help at home, well more than some. But no matter how you look at it, he is the second-best spinner in the world. Lyon and Maharaj have done well, but you’re taking Jadeja any day over them.

You may think, “Oh, he is only good enough to pick up wickets in Asian conditions”. So we had a look at the bowling averages for all spinners outside Asia.

He has outbowled the likes of Ashwin and Lyon in these conditions when they have played in the same matches. However, his bowling workload is slightly less than Ashwin away from home. He has bowled 17 overs per innings on average in this time period, while Ashwin bowls 20.

And while his bowling is not as good away from home, his batting also holds up. Jadeja has become an integral part of India’s batting on the road. Here is the record for Indian batters away since 2018.

He has the 4th highest away average among Indian batters with 500+ runs since 2018. Look at some names below him on this list. We know that at times he has carried the batting from number seven, so much so that they’ve batted him higher as well.

So this all leads to just how good he is as an all-rounder. A positive all round differential is considered to be good if you are elite at one skill. It can be a flawed metric, but for high-usage bowling all-rounders, it works much better. A difference of above 20 is simply incredible. And he is the only player who is doing it at the moment in world cricket. Shakib Al Hasan would usually be here, but he has missed a lot of Tests because of his suspension, and him not just wanting to tour as much.

He is essentially a solid top 6/7 batter, the 2nd choice spinner at home (to the best tweaker in the world) and he solves the 5th bowler problem away from home. Remember India persisted with Hardik Pandya in 2018, during their tours of South Africa and England. However, he wasn’t even close to being as good - even overseas.

But I want to focus on the fact he can bat in the top six, or number seven. When you are talking about all-rounders, there is a massive difference based on where you go in the order. At number eight, you give your team a solid start to the tail, but no extra bowler. Number seven is an in-between position, if your team has a wicketkeeper good enough to bat in the top six, you provide an extra bowler. But you are reliant on another player.

If you look at the other top all-rounders, Jason Holder can’t bat top six, he can probably bat at seven. But he is a front-line bowler. Ashwin is a number eight, who can moonlight at seven. Ben Stokes can bat top six, and while he has frontline bowling talent, his body doesn’t really allow for bowling the overs of a specialist. If you look at his overs per game, it’s nowhere near a frontline. The only player in cricket who can bat and bowl in frontline spots is Ravi Jadeja right now.

We should also point out the fielding a little bit. Jadeja is a superb outfielder, but Stokes and Holder in the slips are more useful in Tests. I think all three have Ashwin covered in the field pretty comfortably. While Jadeja’s fielding is not as important, it’s still another plus for him.

However, one important aspect has to be availability. Being the most valuable player in the team is also about keeping yourself fit and available for almost all matches. We have done a comparative analysis of Jadeja with other all-rounders (1000+ runs & 75+ wickets) and how many games have they missed in this time period.

While Jadeja is an incredible athlete, he does miss a lot of cricket. That has to factor against his case. However, Stokes barely has half the workload as Jadeja with the ball. Even more so once he became the full-time captain. He has barely been a 2 wicket per Test bowler off late. This makes us think about an interesting metric - balls involved per match. It tells us the usage rate of a player throughout a Test match.

So this is the list of the best high-usage players in modern cricket history. On a balls-per-match basis, Jadeja is third behind Shakib and Ashwin. More balls per game than Pollock and Kallis. He is high usage with bat and ball. And it doesn’t always feel that way because there are games on the road where he doesn’t always bowl. But he makes up for that by being almost half of India’s attack at home.

You might still pick Stokes above Jadeja - especially when factoring in the captaincy, slips and availability. But on a per-game basis, Jadeja averages almost exactly the same as Stokes with the bat, and way less with the ball. And he’s used far more. There is no way he isn’t more valuable in terms of productivity and results than Stokes game by game. You might want Stokes for the vibes, for extra matches, or as pace bowling all-rounders often give you more flexibility. But Jadeja is a production monster, to be that high in batting and bowling average is obscene.

And there was a time when Jadeja was not always a certainty to play for India. He was left out of India’s first four Test versus England in 2018. That isn’t the case for Stokes, he has been automatic. But from the point at which this version of Jadeja emerged, he has just been an incredible cricketer producing the kind of numbers that few players ever have. He is now approaching a batting average over 40, with a bowling average under 30.

Here is the list of all the players with 50 wickets and 1000 runs who have done this.

If Ravi Jadeja does it, he will have probably more than 3000 runs and 300 wickets. We have simply never seen this. Oh, and let’s say his batting average never makes it to 40.

Well, currently he is one of three men with a batting average of over 35 and a bowling average of under 30. The other two are Keith Miller and Imran Khan.

Like many all-rounders he came in a bit early, he was green, and he made some silly decisions. But his last five years are up there with the best of Imran Khan, Jacques Kallis and Garfield Sobers. That is the top of the tree right there. I don’t compare anyone to Imran, and yet Jadeja has already moved into that conversation.

Since 2018 he is the best all-rounder in Tests. That conversation has ended.

But the question really is if he’s the most valuable player in the world. That means we need to compare him to the best specialist players.

If we look at batting, the obvious choices are Smith, Root, Williamson, Rohit, Babar and Labuschagne. All these players are making a lot of runs considering that this is pace pandemic period. But Williamson averages 59, and he is the most, and you could argue that’s boosted by incredible feats against the poor teams, and really struggling against the best. But even if you don’t mention that, he still only averaged 15 more than Jadeja. You can factor in their different spots in the order and the sheer weight of runs. But even if you do, Jadeja’s batting allows for a five-man attack. Williamson isn’t worth two batters. Labuschagne might actually be the most consistent specialist batter, adjusting for the Pakistan pitches of Babar. But his impact is not like Jadeja’s.

What of the bowlers? Cummins, Anderson, Ashwin, Bumrah and Rabada are the obvious ones. I would say Cummins has been the best bowler in this period. Anderson doesn’t quite take as many wickets per Test, Bumrah hasn’t played enough, and Rabada is in any conversation. But this is a fast bowling era, so their numbers are all a little lower than usual. You know what it isn’t, a spinners era, but Ashwin is playing in India where at least half the time the wickets have been juiced in his favour.

And the same is true for Jadeja. But his name comes up eighth here. I mean we are looking at the best bowlers in cricket, and he is a fringe contender for that title.

If you go back to the batting, one player I didn’t mention was Root, who has 16 hundreds since the start of 2018. He has been magnificent, and Root is near Jadeja on the list, and somehow only averages four more runs.

So here you have the lists of the best players in the world at batting and bowling, and he is top ten and top 15 in either discipline. Let’s say that he is probably the 20th-25th best batter, based on overall runs and being lower down the order. Well, he’s still probably near enough to the eighth-best bowler, and clearly the second-best spinner. Not to mention in the top five Test outfielders as well.

You might still pick another player we have mentioned so far over him. There might still be that feeling of the weird little boy and his first-class triple hundreds, or the bits and pieces player that used to frustrate. Or you could be conflating his worth with his white ball games.

Even I am not positive he’s the best cricketer in the world. But if you are looking for the most valuable player in Tests over the last five years, it feels like it has to be Ravi Jadeja. And that is not a joke.