"I'm not sure he's missed training since we've been here." - Stephen Fleming, the Chennai Super Kings coach, on Ravindra Jadeja.
"I was hitting well in the nets also so I just kept thinking of that, that how I'm hitting in the nets and I was hoping to do it in the match." - Jadeja after his innings of 31* off 11 balls to win a last-ball thriller against the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Hitting the ball well while training while not having missed a single training session in the two months that the Super Kings have been in the UAE is a lot of balls hit well. IPL 2020 hasn't gone the way the Super Kings had planned, but it has heralded the arrival of Jadeja the batsman in the shortest format.
In the past three years, he had already lifted his Test batting to have numbers specialist batsmen would be happy with, averaging 48.61 over 24 matches. But, in the shortest format, Jadeja's batting had never reached those heights on any consistent basis. Before this tournament, his IPL batting average (24.08) and strike rate (122.66) were fairly ordinary.
This year, those numbers are out of sight. His batting average of 46.40 and strike rate of 171.85 are the best for his team. Better than Ambati Rayudu and Faf du Plessis, faster than Sam Curran and MS Dhoni. Looking at his Smart Stats, the value of his quick scoring is starkly apparent: Jadeja's Smart Strike is 195.27, the fourth best in the entire league. He's ahead of Hardik Pandya, and behind only Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran and AB de Villiers. Or put another way, his batting has been as effective as those gents.
Jadeja, the batsman, has been among the best finishers in IPL 2020 by almost any measure. In a team beset by batting worries, he's been an unheralded superstar.
"This season he has been fantastic," Dhoni said after the win against the Knight Riders. "He has been the only person in our team who has taken that job of scoring runs in the last few overs. The good thing is, he's very balanced at the end. He knows, and believes in the kind of talent that he has, and he has looked to score everywhere. He's not just using his power, at times he has scored through the point region if the field is up.
"I feel he needed somebody else with him throughout the season, then we could have been good. Most of the sides have at least one or two hard-hitters down the order who can capitalise in the last three or four overs."
Jadeja has done this despite batting mostly at No. 6 this season. Unlike Pollard, he hasn't had the luxury of a top order that's also firing. Unlike Pooran and de Villiers - when not shielded against leg-spin - he hasn't had the luxury of time in the middle before exploding. Despite that, he's been in their league.
That he's not had enough time could be one for the Super Kings post-mortem of the season when they sit back to dissect what went wrong. Jadeja has batted 135 balls so far in 11 innings, but been dismissed only five times. He gets to face just over 12 balls per innings on average, while being dismissed once every 27 balls. Scoring at that rate, and getting out as infrequently, should lead to a promotion in the batting order so that the team can maximise his utility, but that hasn't happened.
The Super Kings did act on the inherent logic of this, which is why Curran earned promotions. But perhaps they missed a trick by not promoting Jadeja too. Dhoni, for example, has been batting ahead of Jadeja in almost every game, and there is a vast gulf in their numbers.
Jadeja came in at No.7 in the Super Kings' first defeat against the Knight Riders, with 39 to get in 2.5 overs. He ended up hitting 21* off eight balls.
In the Super Kings' second match against the Delhi Capitals, he was at No.6, and walked in 3.3 overs remaining in the first innings. He hit 33* off 13 in a match the Capitals won off the penultimate ball.
Even on Thursday, by the time Jadeja walked in, only 2.4 overs remained and the Super Kings needed 33 to win. "I think it was one game where the climax went in our favour," Dhoni would smile and say after the match. But could more than one have gone in their favour by utilising their resources - in this case a batsman in prime form - better?
There is something to be said for keeping a player back and sending him in when there is limited time left in the game because of how individuals work. You can bat with a free mind, and be at your most effective perhaps when you know there is only one way to play. That certainly has been true of Dinesh Karthik, for example, who has averaged 50.5 at 183.6 when coming in after the 15th over against 18.88 at 127.8 when coming in before the 15th over since IPL 2019.
"The last 12 balls you don't have to think too much, just see the ball and hit the ball," Jadeja would say after his latest innings. "I knew that if they bowl in my arc I would definitely look to hit a six. That was the simple planning behind it."
Fleming seemed to echo a similar sentiment, almost hinting that too much time in the middle might be counter-productive. "He's very free," Fleming said. "At times he's almost tried to play too smart but now he's just playing free and seeing the ball and just hitting it beautifully."
On the other hand, in IPL 2020 itself Jadeja has shown he can bat long too. He got the opportunity to do so after top-order collapses. He had 50 off 35 against the Sunrisers Hyderabad and 35* off 30 against the Rajasthan Royals. In a format where batsmen are far more likely to fail than succeed, an effect that is magnified when you bat at No.6, Jadeja's successes have been remarkable.
The Super Kings have only one match left, but even if it won't affect qualification, it's worth investing a little more in Jadeja, the batsman.