After a premature Test debut in 2010, fast bowler Jaydev Unadkat’s career had almost been an ECG-equivalent of a flat line with the intermittent ODIs ensuring his international journey didn’t completely run out of breath. However, it was the T20Is that served as the pacemaker, pumping new life into his dwindling career.
Towards the end of 2017, Unadkat played his first full T20I series. Three matches later, he walked away with the Player of the Series award against Sri Lanka. In a month’s time, the Saurashtra bowler was the highest paid Indian at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions, where he was snapped for a mind-boggling Rs 11.5 crore by the Rajasthan Royals in January 2018. A shock therapy of sorts, Unadkat's career seemed to have been resuscitated.
However, before Unadkat could really enjoy the crest of his international career, it hit a trough. After a couple of games in South Africa and in the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka, Unadkat's pacemaker seemed to have malfunctioned, and by mid-March, he had once again lost his place from the national side. Flat line, all over again.
“It has certainly been a year of ups and downs,” Unadkat reflected in an interview with Firstpost. “I have seen the highs and the lows, but that's how it has been in my career. I have seen all the sides of it. I have been dropped from the national side previously as well, so it wasn’t new. Having said that, I have reached a level in my career where I want to enjoy my game rather than anything else."
Now a hardened domestic pro, Unadkat was well-equipped to deal with such situations. He was well aware that the crest and trough are only parts of a wave; what was more important was the wave continued to flow.
“I have been working on my game and I have been doing things which I have wanted to achieve and I think I have been able to do so. If you are able to execute things that you have wanted to do since a long time then you will be happy and content with yourself," the 27-year-old said.
Unadkat was quick to embark on his path to recovery. He returned to the grind of domestic cricket and captained Saurashtra to Ranji Trophy final. On a personal front, he had a successful season with the ball across formats. He claimed 39 wickets at 17.17 in Ranji Trophy, 16 wickets at 18.43 in Vijay Hazare and 12 wickets at 12.00 (6.54 economy) in Syed Mushtaq Ali.
Rajasthan Royals had released Unadkat ahead of the auctions for IPL 2019, only to be bought back for a hefty sum of Rs 8.40 cr. Gradually, stability returned in Unadkat's odyssey.
“It is a period where things have started to happen for me and I think it is all going to be on the right track. The way I have been playing, the way I have been approaching every single game. I don't really bother about what has happened through the year and why I was dropped and why I wasn't picked and stuff like that,” the seasoned pacer explained.
“Even for the IPL, I am not really bothered about the price tag attached with me. Even repeatedly talking about the price tag doesn't bother me. I don't really allow these things to affect my mindset.”
Shreyas Iyer, another cricketer who has been on the fringe of the national side, said a few months ago, “I am emotionless now. Someone comes and says, I am in team, I am not in team, kuch farak nahi padhta (it doesn’t matter much),” in an interview with Indian Express.
When Unadkat was asked if he resonated with Iyer's feeling, he said, “I won't say, I feel exactly like that. Obviously, you want to be in the team and that is a goal at the back of your mind. But as long as it is there at the back of your mind and not in the front, I am happy. Should always work towards that goal, but it shouldn't be your only goal. For me, my goal is to live in the moment and give it my all in every game and keep working to better my game. As long as you are able to do the things within your control and if you do it right, I think you will be satisfied.”
While speaking to Firstpost in November 2017, Unadkat, who was yet to experience the cash windfall, had an earnest dream of returning to the Test side. However 15 eventful months later, with the shortest format providing a massive fillip to his personal and professional life, Unadkat was quizzed if his aspirations had altered.
“I am still focusing on Test cricket. To play Test cricket again for the Indian team is going to be there on my mind till I stop playing cricket,” Unadkat quashed the query immediately.
With India’s current bowling unit in Test cricket at its zenith, finding a place in the side is as demanding a contest as it can possibly be. Unadkat, however, maintains his optimism, suggesting "that’s how a challenge should be."
“It really feels good to see the present group of bowlers perform so well," gushed Unadkat, "It actually gives you new goals and it raises the bar for everybody. The competition in the current team means it is not at all easy to break into the side, but that's how a challenge should be. To be recognised as a fast-bowling force in the world is something very special and even if I am not a part of it, I am still proud of the fast bowling unit that has done so well for India.”
After an underwhelming IPL last year, Unadkat feels he has found his rhythm as he gears for a new season. A creditable return at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and an overall successful domestic season has given him confidence which he hopes to carry into the 12th edition of the league.
"When you're in good rhythm it really doesn't matter which format you're playing. I think my rhythm is right up there at the moment," he said.
The role of his IPL franchise, Rajasthan Royals, cannot be stated enough in helping Unadkat regain his positive space. When Royals bought him for the second time, it meant more than money; the faith reposed by the franchise boosted his confidence.
“It (their belief) actually adds to my confidence rather than pressure. Even though I didn’t perform exceedingly well last year, they (RR owners) kept telling me that whatever I was doing for the team is special and they really want me to keep doing those things. During those times when everyone else is criticising you and someone backs you, especially those who really matter keep motivating you, I think you're ought to get a lot of confidence out of it,” he told.
The Porbandar-born cricketer's greatest strength has been the ability to remain afloat by virtues of sheer persistence and hardwork. If 2017 series against Sri Lanka, followed by the 2018 auctions were a second wind to his career, the departure from the Indian team and an ordinary IPL were its early stutters.
Most healthy hearts pump blood through the body when stimulated by an electrical signal that travels along predetermined pathways. Royals buying him for another season could well be that predetermined path, while a rewarding domestic season coupled with his earnestness and the backing of his franchise are the electrical signals that should stimulate Unadkat ahead of the IPL 2019. Can the tournament be his pacemaker?