The first ball Ravindra Jadeja faced on Friday was curving into him from James Anderson. The ball swung fast in towards his legs, but Jadeja dug it out without missing a beat. Standing inside the crease, bat close to the body, Jadeja made contact with the ball right under his eyeline. There was no hurried or abrupt movement.
Soon it became clear that Jadeja was not going to have a rush-of-blood moment in trying to counterattack his way out of the situation India were in. He was taking a big stride towards the pitch of the delivery while playing, as far as possible, with a full face. His bat remained tucked close to his body to avoid any nicks and, like all good batters, he played the ball late.
Two days before this Test, Jadeja had spent the majority of his time in the nets practising that big stride towards the delivery and focusing on defending. But don't think this was Jadeja adding a new string to his bow. It was more a case of him polishing the wares he put on display in the first four Tests of the Pataudi Trophy last summer. Measured in terms of balls played for lower-order batters so far in this series, Jadeja has faced nearly double that of the next person across either side: 459 deliveries, after the Edgbaston innings, with Rishabh Pant a distant second at 259.
In their first innings of the first Test, at Trent Bridge, Jadeja came in at 145 for 5 and then helped India take 95-run lead, scoring 56 over two hours. India were in pole position chasing a short target before the fifth day was washed out.
At Lord's, where India recorded a memorable comeback, among the many psychological battles the visitors won, prominent again was Jadeja, who was the last man out, helping them to 364 in the first innings, having come at 282 for 5. He might have made just 40 runs, but they came off 120 balls and 160 minutes - highlighting both his grittiness as well as the ultimate aim of ensuring a healthy total. In the fourth Test, Jadeja conjured something out of nothing from a lifeless Oval pitch, which showcased his strength as an allrounder as well validating his selection over R Ashwin, who has sat out all the five Tests in this series.
When he walked in on Friday afternoon, the ball might have grown a bit old - 28 overs - but the conditions remained overcast through the day. For the initial part of his partnership with Pant, Jadeja matched his partner's scoring rate (Jadeja was 24 off 34 while Pant was 25 from 31 deliveries). Even as Pant started to score more freely, Jadeja did not get distracted. He slipped effortlessly into the role of playing second fiddle, in the process taking more strike and facing more questions from the England quicks. From Anderson to Matthew Potts to Stuart Broad to Ben Stokes - each of them attacked his off stump by pitching on a length and shaping the ball away. Barring a few occasions where he did fall for the bait, Jadeja kept his bat tucked in. When they bowled short, he did not pull awkwardly, instead ducking away.
But when the opportunity presented itself - against a shorter ball or a fuller delivery - Jadeja had no qualms in taking them on and putting them away. Take the pushed straight drives on both sides of the wicket against Anderson and Broad on Friday afternoon: playing late and leaning into the shot, Jadeja used his powerful wrists to flick strokes without overhitting them. Once against a short delivery from Broad, Jadeja steered behind square for a certain boundary, but Ollie Pope, at backward point, threw himself to his right to intercept. Jadeja, instantly punched his bat.
Against Anderson and Potts, Jadeja's control dropped to 74% and 76% respectively, but overall his in-control numbers were at 82%. That might not appear high, but keeping in mind the conditions along with the quality of the bowling attack, you could say it was good.
In the same over Pant brought up his century, Jadeja twirled his bat to celebrate his half-century, which had taken 20 more balls that the former's ton (Jadeja reached 50 off 109 balls, compared to Pant getting to three figures in 89). As Pant said after play on Friday evening, both he and Jadeja wanted to solely focus on creating a partnership instead of adding pressure on themselves.
If Stokes and England were not aware that Pant and Jadeja are among the best lower-order batters for the last three years, having conducted several rescue acts, they now know. Anderson pointed out that Jadeja had grown into a "proper batter". "In the past he was coming at eight, batting with the tail so he had to chance his arm a little bit, whereas now at seven he can bat like a proper batter. He leaves really well and made it difficult for us."
In March Jadeja scored 175 against Sri Lanka to take a record from Kapil Dev for the highest score by an Indian No. 7 or lower. ESPNcricinfo analyst Shiva Jayaraman produced in-depth piece explaining how Jadeja had become a sting in the tail for the opposition since 2017. Updated numbers show 591 of Jadeja's 1652 runs since 2017 - 35.8% - have come with India already six down. That is the highest for batters with a cut-off of at least 1000 runs in the last five years.
Since 2019, with a cut-off of a minimum of 15 Test innings, Jadeja has taken on average 2.9 innings for a 50, which is the quickest for India, even better than the likes of Rohit Sharma (3.3) and Pant (3.5). In the same period, among all teams, Jadeja has the highest average of 51.45 (minimum cut-off of 10 innings) for No. 6 and lower batters.
When Pant got out six overs before the finish on day one, Jadeja was on 68. India were still some way off a desired score of 400. Jadeja resumed with the same plan and method he had deployed the previous afternoon, rode his luck once, as England's slips fumbled a catch, and next ball whipped a cut that brought up his third century, and first overseas.
Then came the celebration which also carried a message. Jadeja stood mid-pitch, both arms aloft, one holding a helmet, the other his bat, looking across the ground, as if to ask: ladies and gents, did you expect anything less from me? On the back of a difficult season personally at the IPL, after he stepped down as captain at Chennai Super Kings at the halfway stage and then abruptly left the tournament, it may have felt that much more special.
Heart, courage and character have defined Jadeja the cricketer. Once mocked as a bits-and-pieces player, Jadeja simply laughed back at his critics with enough spectacular acts - with bat, ball, as a gun fielder. At the end of the media briefing on Saturday he even joked saying people could now describe him as: "Fielder who bats and bowls."
An important element of Jadeja's batting which is often overlooked is his pursuit of discipline, which has helped him become the Mr Dependable in the lower order.