Ranji Trophy 2022-23: All-rounder Jalaj Saxena emerges as top wicket-taker in league stage; 50 wickets from 7 games at an average of 19.26. Jalaj Saxena becomes the only India uncapped all-rounder to amass 6000+ runs and 400 FC wickets.
Jalaj Saxena has been one of the most under-rated all-rounders going around in India’s domestic circuit. Born in Madhya Pradesh, the talented spin bowling all-rounder is a veteran of over 130 first-class games having represented Madhya Pradesh and now Kerala in Ranji Trophy and is a sporadic feature when it comes to India A tours.
Saxena has taken 410 wickets at an impressive average of 25.97 taking 28 fifers and 7 ten-wicket hauls in a career spanning over 17 years. The 36-year-old has time and again showed his utility as a complete package. As a batter, he has smashed 14 centuries and scored 6567 runs in the 133 games he has played at an average of 34.74 in his first-class career.
Leading wicket-taker in Ranji 2022-23 league stage
In the ongoing edition of India’s premier red-ball tournament, Jalaj Saxena has proved yet again that he is a cut above the rest when it comes to the domestic circuit. Representing Kerala for the 7th season (since 2016) in his Ranji career, Saxena refuses to slow down even a bit with ball in hand as he ended the 2022-23 league stage as the leading wicket-taker across sides. The off-spinner has taken 50 wickets at an average of 19.26 with six 5-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket hauls.
In the last league match for Kerala, he picked yet another fifer against Puducherry, but this was not enough to make his team progress to the last eight of Ranji Trophy 2022-23. This was his 6th fifer this season and the three matches where Kerala won, his performances stood out in helping the team win.
First, his 9-wicket haul (5/75 and 4/56) enabled Kerala defeat a strong Jharkhand side who are subsequently through to the quarters from Elite Group C. Saxena was the player of the match in the game against Jharkhand. In Kerala’s third game this season, Jalaj returned stunning match figures of 11/123 (5/48 and 6/75) against Chhattisgarh. He followed that up with match figures of 6/156 against Goa and went on to take another 10-wicket haul in a match against Services which resulted in a Kerala victory by 204 runs. Saxena was superb in the second innings where he took 8/36 to skittle out Services for a mere 136.
Jalaj’s presence has bolstered Kerala who made their first semi-final appearance in Ranji Trophy 2018-19
This is not the first season that the veteran offie is shining brightly. In the Covid-affected 2022 season, he just played three games and picked 13 wickets at an average of less than 20.
It was the 2018-19 season that saw him pick 28 wickets at an average of 21.89 from 9 games. Kerala reached their first ever semi-final in Ranji Trophy that year, beating Gujarat in the quarter-final. In the 2017-18 season, he amassed 522 runs and was the second-highest run-scorer for Kerala after Sanju Samson who scored 627 runs. To add to his runs, Jalaj was the leading wicket-taker across sides as he took 44 wickets as well in a season where Kerala made it to the quarter-finals. This shows the value he has brought to the Kerala side since being part of the team from 2016.
The veteran all-rounder excelled for Madhya Pradesh earlier
Jalaj Saxena’s success however was not just limited to his time with Kerala. Jalaj was even more prolific when he part of his home state, Madhya Pradesh. He became their leading all-rounder over the course of career (from his debut season in 2005). One of his best performances with the bat came in the 2012-13 season where he made a jaw-dropping 769 runs in Ranji Trophy which paved way for his India A selection. He followed up that effort with a monumental all-round effort in the next season (545 runs and 35 wickets).
Playing in the wrong era?
Despite being a consistent performer in domestic cricket, Saxena has never been in the reckoning for a national team call-up or for that matter getting sporadically picked in the India A team - the last of which came in the 2019-20 season - just before the Covid break and this was his first selection to the India A side since the year 2013.
This omission, however, can be attributed to the fact that the competition for slots both in the national side as well as in the A side is quite high. Playing in the wrong era might also be a factor as it has been from the time when Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel successfully plied their trade in the domestic scene, when the famous quartet of BS Chandrasekhar, Erappalli Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi and Srinivas Venkataraghavan used to regularly feature for India. India currently have Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja who offer similar traits as Jalaj Saxena for the team as all-rounders, and it has been quite sometime now that someone has been able to completely replace the duo. We did see players like Jayant Yadav and Axar Patel playing when either of the players got injured or when three spinners play in the XI.
These factors made a domestic veteran like Jalaj Saxena to be on the fringes of the Indian side and it has been a while since he has represented India A as well. Despite all the setbacks when it comes to national selection, Saxena keeps churning out match-winning performances for his state side.
What’s next for a domestic legend like Jalaj Saxena?
It might be very tough ask for someone like Jalaj Saxena to be in the mix for an India Test squad call-up, but his experience can be invaluable during the India A tours and at BCCI high performance centres. It is evident in recent years, that there is a paucity of spinners in the mould and quality of Ashwin and Saxena; it really is not how it used to be in India, and is a quite an alarming situation for a country that has produced some of the best off-spinners the game has witnessed.
So, if a player of such high skill and stature as Saxena is present during the A tours, it would help some budding spinner to learning from one of the best in India.