World Cup Diary: Meet Ajay Jadeja, mentor of giantkillers Afghanistan

The decision by the Afghanistan Cricket Board to appoint Jadeja in an advisory role ahead of the World Cup was prompted by the former all-rounder's familiarity with Indian conditions

Ajay Jadeja in a mentor's role with Afghanistan squad for the World Cup (Photo: @ACBofficials/X)
Ajay Jadeja in a mentor's role with Afghanistan squad for the World Cup (Photo: @ACBofficials/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Remember Ajay Jadeja, one of India’s early white ball specialists in the Nineties much before the term was coined? It almost goes under the radar that the charismatic allrounder, also a former captain of India, has been playing the mentor’s role for Afghanistan for the ongoing 50-over ICC World Cup. 

The bravehearts of world cricket eventually had their day on Sunday, 15 October, when they humbled reigning world champions England by 69 runs in Delhi in what would rank as one of the biggest upsets in the 48-year history of the tournament. Ever since the Afghans were accorded full member status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2017, they have often run heavyweights of the sport close — but Sunday night was only their second win in the 50-over showpiece.  

The decision by the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) to rope in Jadeja in an advisory role just ahead of the World Cup, despite having former England batter Jonathon Trott as head coach, was prompted by the former’s familiarity with Indian conditions and creating a gameplan accordingly. Known as one of the shrewder brains of the game, Jadeja — now a TV pundit — was in charge of the Delhi state team in 2015.

What has been the input from the 52-year-old, whose good looks once earned him a substantial female following in his playing days, apart from cameos in films? Asked about it ahead of the India match on 10 October, Afghanistan captain Hashmatullah Sahidi was quite objective: ‘’As a mentor, he always talks about how to deal with the pressure, how to play against these teams. It’s not about too much technique, because he just came into the team. He can’t work with the specifics of batting, bowling and stuff. He has come in to give us talks about mental strength and how to go about against these oppositions. It’s working well so far.’’ 

While Jadeja has not been visible on match days, visuals of him in hands-on mode with the players have been circulated by ACB on social media. It has been a refreshing experience for him, as he said in an interview ahead of the World Cup: ‘’They have a completely different mindset to that of other teams — completely fearless. If you ask me, their strength lies in bowling, where spinners are an ace up their sleeve, while the two seamers are also in demand. The batting needs some work as Afghanistan mostly play the T20 format rather than ODIs and Tests.’’ 

Well, after two back-to-back efforts of 272 and 285 against the likes of India and England in the last two games, the mentor may now have a different opinion. 

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