Ravindra Jadeja wins over the fans, time to call him Chinna Thala.

Ravindra Jadeja was not the highest run-getter of the IPL final that saw Chennai Super Kings complete the Penta, nor did he take the most wickets. He didn’t even hit the maximum sixes or fours in the last-ball thriller that Gujarat Titans lost. The all-rounder wasn’t the player of the match nor did he take home any of the many awards handed to the season’s stand-out performers. But in the wee hours of an IPL final that stretched to three days, Jadeja achieved something that was way more precious and lasting – he won the trust of the fans and faith of the terraces. CSK will always remember Jadeja for the game where he scored just 15 runs and had figures of 1/38.

All seemed lost for CSK for most of the game’s final over. Gujarat Titans seemed all set to retain the title. Cameos by Conway, Rahane and Rayudu had taken CSK close to the finish line but the final push was needed. Dhoni had failed to be the last action hero. Like in the 2011 World Cup final, he had promoted himself and even walked out with the same purpose as he had done at Wankhede on the magical April night. History wasn’t to repeat itself. Dhoni’s first-ball duck would break the heart of the fans who had painted every stadium where CSK played this season yellow.

With Jadeja and Shivam Dube at crease, Chennai needed 13 in the last over. Mohit Sharma showed unreal poise and bowled four near-perfect yorkers. It now boiled down to 10 from 2 balls. Dhoni had his eyes shut, he couldn’t take it any longer. The camera would move to the stands to show a young girl in tears. Like many around her, she too seemed in an emotional mess. The long-dragging three-day IPL final had taken a toll on those who had stuck around despite the rain delay. The world’s biggest cricket stadium was brimming with tension.

Aloof to the heavy weather around him, Jadeja wasn’t pressing the panic button. He has been around, he has been in these situations before. He played his first IPL final at 19 when he was part of the Rajasthan Royals 2008 Cinderella story. Shane Warne had called him a rock star, they defeated CSK in the final to be IPL’s first champions. As luck would have it, for some time now he has been under the wings of another inspirational captain in Dhoni.

At Ahmedabad well past mid-night as Monday turned to Tuesday, Jadeja did what Dhoni had done for CSK for all these years. He left it for late, he waited for that crucial moment of the chase when the pressure got transferred from the batsman to the bowler. Like his captain, he waited for the bowler to make a mistake. And he did.

After those near-perfect four balls by Mohit, coach Ashish Nehra and captain Hardik Pandya made a costly intervention. Nehra sent in a player with a water bottle and probably a message too. Hardik too gave his two cents. The long chat inside the nervous huddle broke Mohit’s rhythm. GT’s death-overs bowler faltered in length on the fifth ball. It was slightly short of the yorker-length and Jadeja, waiting in the crease, hit to the sightscreen. It could well be the most famous six of his long career. With four needed on the last ball, Mohit missed the line. Jadeja guided the ball on his legs past the short fine leg fielder. The ball crossed the rope, the yellow around the stadium exploded in celebrations.

Jadeja had done a Dhoni. He was running towards the stands, he even forgot to do his ‘swishing sword’ celebration. In a rare show of emotion, Dhoni would lift him in the air. Jadeja could possibly go down in history as the only player to receive this warm a hug from Dhoni. Jadeja would dedicate his knock to the captain and profusely thank the fans for being there for them and ask them to keep cheering for them in the future.

CSK’s man of the moment was being the bigger man, he didn’t let his angst spoil the celebratory mood. Jadeja and the CSK fans have famously not got along. Chepauk hasn’t quite warmed to Jadeja as it has to Dhoni or even Suresh Raina. Over the years, mostly through social media, Jadeja has hinted that he hasn’t got the attention or affection he deserves.

Being the world’s leading all-rounder, an all-format India regular and winner of 5 IPL titles; Jadeja isn’t underestimated by his rivals or undervalued by the franchise but has been under-appreciated by the supporters. It is a grudge he has carried for far too long. At Chepauk while Dhoni and others have been received by ear-splitting whistles, Jadeja hasn’t quite got the same reception.

Mostly batting just above Dhoni, CSK’s fanatics have cynically wished for Jadeja’s dismissal so that they will get Thala’s darshan. After a game when asked why he doesn’t bat higher in the order, he said: “I keep hearing Mahi bhai’s chants. If I bat higher, then the crowd will wait for me to get out.” There have also been whispers about cracks in his relationship with Dhoni. They have a history.

Last season Jadeja was stripped of captaincy midway through the season. He was to be Dhoni’s understudy, his heir-apparent but the management, in an effort to stop the team’s mid-season slide, had called off the transition. Dhoni was back at helm and Jadeja, if those in the know are to be believed, was hurt. Officially, he was injured.

Within days he would post a message that said: “Don’t lower your standards for anyone or anything. Self respect is everything”. Even this season, the cryptic posts haven’t stopped, fueling the rumour mills. On May 21, he tweeted: “Karma will get to you, sooner or later it surely will”. On May 24, his post was more direct. He put out a picture of him holding the giant cheque at the award ceremony that said “Uptox most valuable asset of the match”. The caption said: “Uptox knows but some fans don’t”.

It’s puzzling why Jadeja doesn’t get the applause that he so rightly deserves. His very cerebral art of bowling hardly gets intellectualised, like is the case of his long-standing bowling partner Ravichandran Ashwin. India has failed to acknowledge the feat of an genuine all-rounder whose batting average is better than that of Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Andrew Flintoff and Shaun Pollock and his bowling figures are better than those of Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, S Venkataraghavan and BS Chandrasekhar.

Back in 2013, Jadeja had tweeted: “Don’t even try and judge me dude. You have no idea what the f*ck I’ve been through.” In a recent interview to The Indian Express, Jadeja was reminded of the post. He didn’t evade the question but gave an answer. “On days when I haven’t done well, they start trolling, calling me names. They say things without knowing the kind of hard work I have done to reach this stage. Small, small things … there are so many struggles and sacrifices that I don’t even remember now.”

He would raise his voice and add: “Those idlers sitting in front of a computer have nothing to do, they sit and make memes and write anything that comes to their mind … See honestly, those things don’t matter to me. If they did, I wouldn’t have reached this far … They have no idea what all I had to go through to reach here. They say he is playing IPL and earning so much money … Believe me, in IPL, they don’t pick you by seeing your face.”

On the final day of the IPL, he showed he certainly wasn’t picked for his face. The 10 runs he scored off the last two balls will go a long way in bridging the distance between him and the terraces. Thala will be around next year, high time Chepauk warms up to CSK’s MVP. To break the ice, they should start calling him Chinna Thala (Little Thala).

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