Ravi Jadeja's case for being the MVP in Asia

We looked at whether he was the most valuable player in the world right now, and we found he might have a claim at being the best in Asia ever.

So we just finished looking at whether Ravi Jadeja was the most valuable player in Test cricket, but we haven’t even finished the piece, when we realised there was another question we hadn’t even thought about yet.

What if Ravi Jadeja is the most valuable player ever in Asia?

And when it was first put to me, I assumed it was crazy, but even after a quick look, it started to be very clear that it’s something that needs to be looked at.

Ravi Jadeja has played 15 Tests in Asia in the last 5 years. He has picked up 63 wickets at an average of under 21 and scored 790 runs at nearly 53 runs per dismissal. An average differential of over 32 (32!!). Hahahahah, no you shut up. He is head and shoulders clear of any other spin-bowling all-rounder with the bat in these conditions while being almost as good as his teammates with the ball.

Among the 9 bowlers with 50 or more wickets in Asia in this time period, Jadeja is 4th. He is also the 3rd highest wicket-taker. And have a look at the difference between places 4 and 5 - it is more than the difference between 1 & 4. The Indian bowlers are in an elite tier of their own. He is a top drawer with the ball. And you might say, well, sure, but the pitches are in his favour when he bowls.

Yup, but Jadeja has the best average for players batting at numbers 6 & 7 in Asia while being the 3rd highest run-getter. Ever since his maiden Test hundred, his batting has had an element of calm. He has become a lot more reliable than he used to be in the first half of his career.

Jadeja would walk in as both a top 6/7 batter and a frontline spin bowling option if we made a playing XI based on recent performances in Asia. He is arguably even more valuable than Ashwin - who is the best spinner in the world, but he is handy with the bat. He’s nothing like this.

In fact to prove how incredible he has been, here is Ravi just as a batter. The 12th best average in Asia during that time. And these last two tables also come from him batting in India. Even if my assumption is that batting against the newer ball is tough. No one is making runs on Indian tracks, and the bowler who is cashing in on that is also making runs.

So if Indian wickets are so bad his bowling numbers are lower than what they should be, does that mean his batting numbers should also be deflated? There is no way to look at this and not be amazed.

But when we come to the most valuable, we also have to look at availability. Ashwin has not missed a single match in Asia in the last 5 years while Jadeja has missed seven. ‌In our previous Test MVP article, we established that being fit and available for selection is also important when we are talking about the most valuable players on the team.

Regardless, unless those seven matches really bother you, it’s obvious it won’t be a stretch to say that he is currently the most valuable player in an Asian Test. However, is he the most valuable player of his era? To find that, we will have to look at who the best specialist players are.

Jadeja is easily the second-best bowler in these conditions since his debut. He has even eclipsed the likes of Rangana Herath and Yasir Shah, who were specialist bowlers at the peak of their powers when he first came onto the scene. In Herath’s case, we’re talking about someone who took 398 wickets over the age of 30. Just a next-level player, and look at Jadeja’s numbers there.

There are quite a few batters who average north of 50 since Jadeja’s debut. Kohli and Pujara have been among the top run-getters, while Younis, Rohit and Babar have done extremely well over a relatively smaller sample space. Jadeja has the 26th most runs in Asia in that time. He averages more than Rahane, who was a specialist number 5 batter for a long while. Though not outs have a role to play in that aspect. And that is kind of his main skill, just not getting out. Which is a big part of batting.

The only other player who can play as a frontline option in this era with both bat and ball is Shakib, and he averages 10 more than Jadeja with the ball. While Shakib has also been a world-class all-rounder playing for a much weaker team than his Indian counterpart, there are strengths and weaknesses of playing in a weaker team. But either way, Shakib has played fewer games than him. And just doesn’t have the same kind of bowling record.

And when it comes down to it, he’s the second-best bowling average and a solid mark with the bat. Averaging 40 with the bat and 20 with the ball for over a decade, has to make you the most valuable player of your era.

That’s all right but the question was whether Jadeja is the MVP of all time in Asian Tests.

There are quite a few all-time greats bowlers on this list, where Jadeja sits at number 3. We have Murali, who has picked up over 600 wickets in Asia, that feels like a made-up number, and he did it at an insane average. Shane Warne is the only non-sub-continent player in the all-time list with a very solid record over a significant sample size, despite not performing well in India.

Kumar Sangakkara is the only batter who averages north of 60. And he did it while being a wicket-keeper for over 30% of the Tests he played in Asia. Sachin Tendulkar is the highest run-getter while averaging 56, which is not a surprise at all. Pakistan batters have historically been incredible in these conditions. Among the active players, Kohli and Pujara are in the 50+ average club despite a significant decline and having faced some extremely challenging wickets in the past few years.

With a cutoff of 1000 runs & 100 wickets, only 7 players in history have a positive all round differential. The World Cup-winning skipper Kapil Dev deserves more respect since he was a fast bowling all-rounder in Asia. But while there are good players on this list, you can see there are two players with incredible batting numbers who are two of the three best when it comes to bowling average ever in Asia.

On raw numbers, Imran’s record is basically the same as Jadeja's. I almost can’t even tell the difference. But we need to dig deeper.

Both Imran and Jadeja have predominately batted at 6 or below in their Test careers. Imran Khan batted in the top 5 in only 3 of his 56 Test innings in Asia, while Jadeja batted 5 times in 56 innings. Both have the same number of not-out innings too (15).

But surely a pacer having an identical bowling record and nearly as much usage per game as that of a spinner in conditions favouring spin bowling means he is the better player. Plus Imran Khan was also a Test captain, which only adds to his overall value as a player.

We came up with another interesting metric to gauge the value of a player. How much better is player X than the second-best option while drafting an XI? Also, note the player who is the second-best option should not already be a part of the playing XI.

Imran, Jadeja, Murali, Sangakkara and Tendulkar would surely be among the first few picks while drafting an all-time XI to play in Asia. How much better are these players in terms of output than their alternatives?

  • Imran - Kapil Dev
  • Jadeja - Shakib
  • Murali - Herath/Kumble/Warne
  • Sanga - Flower (a wicket-keeper who could bat in the top 5)
  • Tendulkar - Kohli/Pujara (or any world-class batter who couldn't make it to batting positions (3-6) in the first XI)

It must be acknowledged that some of the greatest players in Asian conditions were actually from non-sub-continental teams. But a relatively smaller sample space means that they will probably not be a part of this conversation. Richard Hadlee, Glenn McGrath, Courtney Walsh, Andy Flower, and Alastair Cook were a few that had they played more enter any conversation.

Tendulkar, Sangakkara and Murali pip Imran and Jadeja in terms of Tests played. However, Imran played for 21 years. I think this is our top five.

And it probably depends on how you want to look at it. If you look at Murali. You have someone who has managed to take 600 wickets at 21, even if he can’t bat at all. Also, he has a weirdly bad record in India, 40 wickets at 45. But this is so many wickets, three times as many as Imran Khan or Ravi Jadeja, even if they have slightly lower averages. I don’t know what to do with someone taking this many wickets.

If you head over to the batters, you have three players with more than 9000 runs who are averaging 55 plus. But Kumar Sangakkara is over 60 and can keep. So he clears the other two here. But Tendulkar’s longevity certainly pushes him back into the front few.

So at this point, you need to make a choice on your MVP, Murali is probably the guy when you look at the specialists, and he also has his partner Kumar covered as well.

So the best players in the history of the game in Asia are Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Imran Khan and Ravi Jadeja.

Look at the players I just mentioned, and at the end, we put Jadeja’s name. He probably isn’t number one. But to have him top five on the overall record is remarkable considering how his career started. And that he hasn’t even finished yet.

However, there is one incredible kink to his career that is barely believable. Ravi Jadeja has played an entire career for over a decade, and in that time, he has managed only two Tests in Asia, when not at home. That is so crazy. If you compare him to Murali and Imran, they both played 25% of their Asian careers away from home. While Ravi only played two in Sri Lanka.

So it would be hard to put him into the top five of all time when he has basically only played at home. And maybe that means that someone like Mahela, Ashwin or Wasim comes into that top five.

So Jadeja is not the MVP of players in Asia, and he’s probably not top five yet either. But he’s top ten more than likely and considering he still has years left, most importantly, he is in the conversation.