When Jaydev Unadkat made his Test debut for India in 2010, he was a skinny 19-year-old clearly out of his depth at the top level. In a humbling defeat at the hands of South Africa at Centurion, the left-arm seamer bowled 26 wicketless overs and conceded 101 runs.
Since that match his appearance for the national side was restricted to a just over a handful of ODIs and a solitary T20 international in 2013, five of which were as part of a second-string side sent on a tour of Zimbabwe. While his stats are respectable, he hasn’t been seen in India colours since.
Fast forward almost seven years since his Test debut and the lanky Saurashtra kid with the wide eyes is no more. Now there is a leaner, stronger-looking man who has added some pace and a few tricks to his repertoire. He sports the beard of a man who has now played over 50 first-class matches.
Unadkat, like many talented Indian seamers before him, was noticed as an under-19 talent and touted as a star of the future, and just like many of his predecessors, it seemed he too may disappear into the wilderness of the Indian domestic circuit. However, his 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign with runners-up Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) has put the skillful seamer back in the spotlight.
Initially he wasn’t selected in the playing XI, kept out by the likes of Ashok Dinda, but once Dinda inevitably became too charitable with his economy rate, Steve Smith turned to Unadkat and the Australian captain will be glad he did. Unadkat finished the tournament with an impressive 24 wickets from just 12 matches, just two behind leading wicket-taker Bhuvneshwar Kumar in two less matches, and was instrumental in his side’s late charge to the final. His strike rate of a wicket every 11.4 balls was just as impressive as his economy of just over seven and ensured he was more than just a reliable customer for Pune, he was a strike weapon.
When Unadkat started his career his ability to swing the ball was evident, but he lacked the pace to have any real penetration, operating at only 125-130kph at best. However, the 25-year-old now appears a stronger and fitter bowler and bowls at much more challenging speeds around the 135kph mark without losing any of his trademark swing.
His ability to strike with the new ball made him an integral part of Smith’s side and so often provided a perfect start for the Supergiant, and he was at it again in the final against Mumbai removing the dangerous Parthiv Patel early before taking a stunning return catch to dismiss West Indian swashbuckler Lendl Simmons.
Unadkat’s spell of 2/19 off four overs was the best of the Supergiant seamers and played a pivotal role in restricting Mumbai to just 129/8. On a sluggish surface, as many have been this IPL, it was his changes of pace that proved deceptive and effective and accounted for the wickets of Patel and Simmons. In particular Unadkat’s rolling off-cutter proved difficult to pick, and handle for a many batsmen throughout the season.
Not many would have expected Unadkat to have the impact he did this tournament but the youngster has shown how much he has improved since he was first noticed, and how smart a bowler he has become. Becoming stronger and adding pace comes with age and physical development, but his range of skills and ability to deliver under pressure made him Smith’s go-to man this IPL and Unadkat didn’t let his captain down.
Whether striking early with the new ball or keeping it tight at the death, Unadkat has stood up when his team has needed him most, and his inclusion into the side paid dividends for Pune. His 5/30, including a last-over hat-trick against Sunrisers Hyderabad was a tournament highlight and match-winning spell, which ultimately helped Pune finish in the top two by defeating one of their playoff rivals.
Defending a modest 148, Unadkat removed the dangerous Yuvraj Singh for 47 before claiming the scalp of Naman Ojha. With Hyderabad needing 13 off the final over, Smith turned to his left-arm seamer and he delivered a maiden over, which included a hat-trick all taken with slower balls and change ups. This was the confidence boosting moment for Unadkat, and the moment Smith knew he had a man he could turn to when the pressure was on.
The Pune quick continued to thrive under pressure and was exceptional in his side’s Qualifier 1 victory over Mumbai and in the losing final against the same side.
The IPL has often put young Indian players in the spotlight after a good tournament, and has been the foundation of many young players getting their opportunity with the national side. Unadkat has already had a taste of the big time and after a brilliant IPL season he has shown everyone he has the hunger to improve and succeed. Unadkat’s fantastic tournament, where he almost led his team to the title, will ensure that he isn’t forgotten again in a hurry and remains on the radar of the selectors and fans alike.
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Updated Date: May 22, 2017 09:28:43 IST