Saurashtra had won their third Ranji Trophy match of the ongoing season on the trot. With opposition Jharkhand made to follow-on the strike bowler, Jaydev Unadkat had spent his previous two days in the sweltering heat of Rajkot on the field, bombing down 34 overs of fast bowling and scalping four wickets, that included a couple of crucial breakthroughs that helped the team’s cause of clinching an outright win on the final day.
On 5 November the 26-year old was enjoying a perfect slothful Sunday evening playing some FIFA on the PlayStation with his friends from the national team, who were unwinding before flying out to Thiruvananthapuram for the 3rd T20I against New Zealand.
Understandably Unadkat was a little restrained at first but later agreed to leave behind the idea of slamming goals past his mates to exchange a volley of words with Firstpost in the arid weather of Rajkot.
Note: Since then Unadkat has bagged a four-wicket haul against defending champions Gujarat helping his side secure three important points.
Saurashtra’s pedigree of producing quality national-level cricketers had taken a hit in the 1990s and also during the noughties. Saurashtra's Ashok Patel played his last One Day for India back in 1985 and it wasn’t until Ravindra Jadeja who broke onto the international scene in 2009, that Saurashtra had any kind of representation in the national side.
With Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara and Unadkat all having represented the country across formats, its significance had a bearing on Saurashtra’s first-class performances as well. The team blossomed into one of the more formidable sides in recent times, finishing as runners-up in the 2012-13 and 2015-16 season of Ranji Trophy.
Leading the wicket-charts for Saurashtra in 2015-16 Ranji season, Unadkat said, “We have always been a good side, especially when we are playing with our full members, whenever Cheteshwar and Ravindra are available. Since the last 3-4 years, we have been in contention to qualify for the knockouts and made it to the finals on a couple of occasions as well.”
With three outright wins off their first three matches, including a couple of bonus points, Saurashtra sits handsomely atop of their Ranji group. And now with three more points from the game against Gujarat, they extend their lead at the helm.
Unadkat missed out on a game against Jammu and Kashmir but has got off to a decent start, reaping 14 wickets in five innings so far.
Assessing his personal performance he told Firstpost, “Since the last IPL (Indian Premier League), I think I have been in a very good rhythm. Have been feeling confident about my bowling, whether it is a 4-day game or a one-day or T20 and the same confidence has helped me in the recent matches.”
With the new Ranji Trophy format allowing only two of the seven teams in the group makes the contest fierce. The pacer too accepted it will be a tough journey, especially when Pujara and Jadeja leave for national duty, but the strike bowler backed his side to have enough firepower on their bench.
Unadkat belongs to a lineage of the modern-day cricketer, who have an IPL contract before receiving a Ranji cap. Having caught the attention of the selectors with impressive performances in India A tours and emerging nations tournament, Unadkat was fast-tracked into Tests as well, then, just 19, he made his debut in 2010 against South Africa at Centurion, replacing an injured Zaheer Khan.
“I was bowling really well in that particular year. Did well in U-19, India A and the emerging tour in Australia. I was looking in very good rhythm. So there is nothing that made me think I was underprepared. I do realize now that perhaps I was a bit tired, maybe because of the amount of cricket I played during that time.
I still don't find a particular reason as to ‘Why I wasn't successful in that one particular match,’ because that can happen to anyone. It can happen in Ranji game, it happened to me in a Test match and rather than looking for one particular reason why I wasn't successful isn't the right way to go. It was a learning lesson for me.”
My goal since then has been to get back in the Test side and to prove that I had the potential to be at that level,” said a self-driven Unadkat.
In India’s recent tour of Sri Lanka, Indian bowling coach, Bharat Arun, had said that the team would like to add a left-arm quick in the squad.
“To be honest, it does feel good and it does give you an extra motivation when you read these sort of things and especially when you know you're doing well. You obviously hope to continue doing well and keep knocking the door to grab any opportunity that is going to come my way. At the same time you need to focus on the process and not to work towards that specific goal only,” said a prudent Unadkat.
He also added, “The idea is to develop my game and that is exactly what I am doing for the last couple of years. Working on specific skills and the results have been coming good. It really showed out in IPL, but I have been working for that for the last couple of years and I am sure if I keep doing well my chance will come, but those things do give an extra sense of motivation and eagerness to do really well in coming times.”
With Ashish Nehra drawing curtains on his long career, it opens up an opportunity for a bowler to break into the limited-overs squad. With a potential place of up for the grabs, this is an ideal time for any bowler to put their best foot forward and the tall left-arm bowler thinks no differently.
“Of course, this is the time that I really need to do my best. If I have done well in several games, it is important to continue. I mean the opportunity will be there and I do believe I have the potential but at the same time, it won't get to a stage where I am the only one in the reckoning. I think whenever I deserve a chance I will get it and I have got my chances in the past. I didn't do well. I got dropped. Fair enough. But then I believe a lot in God, so I just keep all those things for him to decide. Be it today or when I am performing at my best or maybe after doing well for 4 games or 8 games or more.”
The left-arm pacer, who spent a lot his younger days under the tutelage of Wasim Akram at Kolkata Knight Riders, relies heavily on swing and accuracy. But a common criticism of Unadkat's bowling has been the lack of pace.
When asked if he intends to add a couple of yards to his bowling, he said, “It is actually tricky for a bowler like me to just work on my pace. Since the beginning, my strength has been swing and accuracy and I would say there has been an increase in my pace in the last couple of years, ever since I have started working and training, keeping pace in mind.”
“However, if I can add a couple of yards it can really help my bowling. The pace comes with general fitness as well, yes you do look into the technicalities of bowling too, but then if you're fit enough, it helps to notch a few more clicks,” he added.
Believing in a common adage that of the process of improving being a ceaseless activity, he said, “I would say I am still working to gain the peak level of fitness that everyone aspires for and I am sure that if I get to that level, my pace is bound to increase.
“I guess, it is a fair (criticism), but I don't look at it from others' perspective so it is difficult to answer it myself. Having said that if everyone is saying the same thing there might be some amount of truth in it,” the bowler was candid enough to admit that he is still work-in-progress and would like to add pace in his repertoire.
With modern-age cricket becoming demanding by the day, it is difficult to play across all three formats whilst maintaining high levels of fitness. Very few players in the Indian squad play regularly in all three formats. Barring the exception of Indian captain Virat Kohli, there is not a single player who has guaranteed a spot in the playing XI across formats.
In order to cater to the challenging ask of playing across various formats, players tend to pick and chose a preference and try to zero in on it and hence the rise of players deemed as ‘T20 specialists’ and ‘death-over bowlers’.
But the 26-year-old still relishes the challenges that different formats bring to the table and thinks it would be detrimental to wear blinders to focus only on a particular format.
“To have a preference at this stage of my career, won't be good for me. I still believe, like any other bowler, I can transform from one format to another and can develop all the skills. I got my first break in Tests, meaning I had those skills which are required for a longer format. After developing the slower ball and couple of other deliveries in my armoury, it helped me transform into a limited-overs bowler,” he said.
Donning the jersey of Rising Pune Supergiant, Unadkat played an instrumental role in his team’s turnaround in this year’s edition. With 24 wickets to his name, Unadkat finished second behind Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s tally of 26 wickets, at an exceptional strike rate of just over 11, helping his franchise reach the finals.
“At the moment I get a lot of confidence out of what I did in the IPL and the domestic limited-overs matches as well. Having said that I won't say that I prefer only to play one-dayers and T20s above Test matches. When we play 4-day matches, my motive is to excel in it and grab a place in the Test team. So, I won't single out any format.”
“As a player, it is always beneficial if you keep looking at the bigger picture and you keep setting goals in every format that gives me a chance to develop all-round skills,” he told.
“I have always enjoyed playing 4-day matches, it has its own charm and especially those crucial battles that happen only in a Test match cannot be replaced," he said much to a traditional cricket romantic's delight.
Unadkat was quick to cite an example from the game he played against Jharkhand in the previous week.
The lanky pacer got two important wickets after lunch on the final day triggering a collapse that helped Saurashtra bowl them out and set themselves a paltry target of 59 to collect all six points.
“It was a crucial spell that I bowled in the afternoon session, where I got a couple of wickets. At Lunch we were all down and just when we thought the chance to seize an outright win was slipping, the game tilted… and those are the kind of battles that can happen only in Test matches,” he said wearing a wide smile.
Unadkat has always been on the radar of the selectors with some respectable and notable performances in domestic circuit but hasn’t quite been able to break into the national side. When asked if he gets disheartened after having had just one crack at Test cricket, the wide smile continues to beam on his face, as he chose philosophical routes to speak his mind on the issue.
“I don't think I have been disheartened ever since I have been dropped after my first Test. For the record, I didn't get picked for Deodhar Trophy last year and the zonal T20s as well, that too just before the IPL. For someone like me who has played in that team for 5-6 years and then getting dropped can be disheartening but at that point of time I think my mindset has helped me come out of it,” he asserted.
“I do feel that there might be some reason why I wasn’t been picked and rather than finding 'Why they didn't pick me' and getting disheartened by it, I like to look at the reason of 'What made them not pick me' and look to work on that aspect.”
Having last played for India in the ODI against the Windies in 2013, it's been four years since Unadkat last represented India in any format.
“If there is one place for a fast bowler in the side, there will always be three or four bowlers doing well and contesting for the spot, making it possible for only one to make the cut. I have got my chances and sometimes others have been rightly given a chance and that is how it is,” explained Unadkat as matter of fact.
He pointed out saying, “If you see (Mohammed) Siraj was doing extremely well and that is why he was picked. There will always be 3-4 guys doing well at the same time,” he repeated.
“It is all about destiny, I do believe in these things. I just need to make sure I keep improving my game rather than looking at results. I did well in this IPL but I was working on it since last couple of years. These minute details won't come in the forefront, but I would personally know that it has been a process for me. And having faith in that process has worked for me,” Unadkat said giving a peek into how he keeps his mind off distractions.
Unadkat had a dream run in IPL 2017, grabbing a hat-trick maiden in the 20th over of the innings against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Next year’s edition will see the return of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, after two-year ban. Whilst, RPSG and Gujarat Lions will discontinue, Unadkat alongside many other big names will be amongst the auction mix. With the retention policy yet to be confirmed, the cash-rich league is likely to throw surprises.
“It’s going to be a huge turnaround. Many of the senior guys will shuffle as well. I am not sure of the retention policy and all, but there will be a lot of shuffling. Whatever team I get into I just hope it is a very strong combination like we had in RPSG last year," said Unadkat.
“Not really, there are no favourites. I have played in five different teams and every time I have had a different experience and it was great,” he said when hard pressed to pick a favourite.
Former Royal Challengers Bangalore bowler signed off by saying,“You would have to say Virat and AB (De Villiers) are the two batsmen ruling the fraternity at the moment. Anyone would want to be on their side.”