After the emphatic eight-wicket win against the West Indies at The Oval on Tuesday, the Indian team drove down to Birmingham from London on Wednesday evening. Outside the capital city of England, Birmingham is the most populous with a huge percentage of Asian residents. A steady drizzle greeted the team as India's latest bowling star Ravindra Jadeja walked nine feet tall.
The ICC Champions Trophy is thoroughly exposing India's Generation Next. If Shikhar Dhawan has been India's man of the moment with back-to-back centuries against South Africa and the West Indies, Jadeja is not far behind. His career-best 5 for 36 spun a web around top Caribbean batsmen as India stormed into the semifinals of the Champions Trophy from group B.
When Jadeja was tormenting the West Indian batsmen with tight line and length, up in the stands at The Oval was a 65-year-old man savouring each and every bit of Jadeja's success. Debu Mitra has been Saurashtra's coach for nine seasons and the former Bengal batsman has played a big hand in changing the fortunes of the state side from a West Zone minnow to a serious title contender.
International sport is full of personalities like Mitra, who prefer to remain far away from the spotlight. A technically sound batsman during his days and with just 14 first class matches under his belt, Mitra is not the quintessential 'modern' coach equipped with lap-tops and video footage of game's nitty-gritties. "My brain is my laptop," he says, adding: "As long as it works, I am fine."
Mitra has played big roles in shaping careers. During their formative years, the coach with simple yet effective methods, had mentored the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Devang Gandhi. Today, he can claim a fair share in the success stories of Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Mitra joined Saurashtra's coaching staff in the 2005-2006 season. Since then, the West Zone team has really gained in stature. In 2007-08, Saurashtra made it to the Ranji Trophy semis and also finished national one-day champions. Saurashtra made it to the Ranji semis once again the following season and this year, played the semi-finals for the third time. Despite the absence of Cheteshwar Pujara and Jadeja, Saurashtra surprised Punjab to qualify for their maiden final.
Jadeja obviously has been one of his standout pupils. "My heart was racing when 25000 Indian fans were chanting 'Jadeja, Jadeja' at The Oval. It was one of the proudest moments in my life as a coach," Mitra said in an exclusive chat.
Mitra revealed that Jadeja had decided to quit spin bowling two years ago. "He was quite disillusioned about his bowling abilities after getting thrashed in the T20 World Cup in the West Indies. He wanted to shine as a batsman and his mind was confused. That's the time when he needed someone to guide him. We are lucky that he didn't quit bowling," Mitra said.
"It took a bit of convincing to tell him that the only way he can play for India was by the strength of his left-arm spinners. I had to remind him that it were his 42-43 wickets in the domestic circuit that paved his way into the Indian team. He could ill afford to not focus on bowling," Mitra said.
"Next day at the nets, Jadeja was a changed man. Bowling for hours alone, he would be the first man to come in for training and the last to leave. He is not a great turner of the ball, but his nagging line and length will force the batsmen to make mistakes. Most of his dismissals are either LBWs or bowled," said Mitra. Three of his five West Indian wickets on Tuesday were either LBW or bowled.
Jadeja was part of the India team that won the Under-19 World Cup in 2008 in Malaysia. Three years earlier his mother, a nurse, had died after suffering burns in a fire. Jadeja had rushed her to hospital where for five days she fought for her life. Jadeja has often revealed how his mother wanted to see him in Indian colours.
He was picked in the defending champions' squad for the World Twenty20 in England in 2009 and made his tournament debut in the Super Eight round against England. But things never looked up for the 24-year-old as Jadeja failed to make the cut in the 2011 World Cup squad.
Jadeja's batting abilities were not to be ignored. The first Indian to score three triple centuries in domestic cricket, Jadeja was called up for Test duty. With India 2-1 down in the series against England last December, Jadeja joined the squad for the fourth match in Nagpur. He made an impression not with the bat, but with the ball, clean bowling Jonathan Trott and bagging Kevin Pietersen in both innings.
Shane Warne called him a "rockstar" and Jadeja kept his place for the series against Australia. And on pitches that assisted spin, he took the wicket of Michael Clarke five times in six innings, twice bowling the Aussie captain and once having him stumped. This firmly established his quality and place in the Indian squad.
"I had always told him that the passport to the Indian team is his bowling. Jadeja is a capable batsman and a brilliant fielder. All in all, he is a complete package that no international side can ignore," Mitra said.
Mitra still feels Jadeja is an unpolished diamond. "He will shine more with experience. He firmly remains in the present and the IPL riches (Chennai Super Kings paid a whopping 2 million USD to get him) have still not changed his humble ways," said Mitra. Cricket, as they say, can be a great leveller.