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‘You have to keep fighting’: Jaydev Unadkat’s Test dream lives on

Jaydev Unadkat
by Rohit Sankar 7 minute read

Jaydev Unadkat is forging a red-ball career that deserves greater recognition, writes Rohit Sankar.

In the 2019/20 Ranji Trophy final, Saurashtra had their backs against the wall heading into day five. Bengal were 354-6 and closing in on their first innings total of 425. A first-innings lead would almost certainly guarantee a title win and Bengal had Anustup Majumdar — who had smashed 149* and 41 in the semi-finals — on 58*, well set and ready to take his side home.

Early on day five, Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat, who had picked up 65 wickets in the season (but was wicketless until then in the final), bowled a corker from around the wicket to trap Majumdar in front. Two balls later, an alert Unadkat ran out the next batter — Akash Deep — with an accurate throw to put Saurashtra in front. They eventually went on to record their maiden Ranji Trophy win.

“The ball was reversing a bit that morning. [Majumdar] was batting from overnight when the ball wasn’t reversing,” Unadkat tells Wisden India. “When it started moving, I felt that I had a chance of getting him bowled or LBW. They were slightly tentative at the time and I knew I had to strike then.”

“Playing on a flat track, our backs against the wall, the pressure of a final, bowling with an old ball… because of a combination of these, dismissing Mazumdar and then Akash Deep at that time gave me a lot of satisfaction. The match situation was crucial. I hadn’t taken a wicket until then. I was aware of this and it played in the back of my mind. I knew the game was slipping and I needed to step up. Otherwise, he would have taken the game away from us. That over gave us the belief that we could do it.”

Unadkat was Saurashtra’s superstar the entire season. His bowling isn’t just about skills, though; his shrewdness, a key part of his success, translates into his captaincy too, as was seen during a masterful technical move in the semi-final.

With his side reeling at 4-3 against Gujarat, Unadkat sent Chetan Sakariya, a bowler who can hold a bat — certainly not an all-rounder — in at No.5. Unadkat’s thinking was that Chintan Gaja, who had taken all three wickets until then, was swinging the ball away from the right-handers and the left-handed Sakariya would throw a spanner in the works. The ploy worked. 4-3 turned into 15-5, but Sakariya and Arpit Vasavada put on a 90-run stand that proved crucial in Saurashtra’s eventual victory.

“Look at the semi-final win (in which Unadkat took 10 wickets) or the last day of the final – it was red-ball cricket at its best and these were probably the best games I have been involved in.”

It certainly was his best Ranji Trophy season. Unadkat’s tally of 67 didn’t just top the wicket-taking charts – they were also the most a quick had ever claimed in a single Ranji season. It’s the kind of season that translates into national selection, at least as part of the larger touring party for an away tour. But when the squad for India’s tour of England was announced earlier this year, Unadkat, once again, didn’t find a place.

“To be honest, I was expecting [selection], given the big pool of players going,” he said. “I was the highest wicket-taker in the last [Ranji Trophy] and then nothing worked out. I know for a fact that the current crop of fast bowlers we have in the team have all been doing well. So maybe not in the main group – I was expecting to be in the larger pool. Having said that, I can keep pushing my limits and that’s what I’ve got to do. I am still in the middle of a very good phase in my career and it’s going to be that way for the next 4-5 years. That’s a positive I have.”

The stats back up Unadkat’s case strongly. In five of his last six domestic first-class seasons, Unadkat has averaged less than 22 with the ball. In his last two, it’s come down to 17.7 and a ridiculous 14.7.

Despite the mind-boggling numbers, Unadkat understands that “he shouldn’t put too much pressure” on himself to get back into the India set-up.

“There will be failures, even more so than success. And that’s just how it is. You’ve got to keep fighting. At the same time, you can’t allow it to overwhelm you. For that you need to be at peace with yourself. My family has helped me with it tremendously, especially my wife, who has helped me gain a larger perspective.”

Breaking into the current  Test side as a fast bowler is no cakewalk. Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will most likely go down as Indian fast-bowling greats, while Mohammed Siraj has already shown his class as an up-and-comer. Unadkat is aware of the heavy competition, and while he does offer something a little bit different as a left-armer, that hasn’t proved to be enough to get him in either.

“There are bowlers who have been doing extremely well in the team. I am well aware of this. It is difficult to squeeze in when they are doing this well.

“Being a left-armer adds to the variety factor, but I know that alone won’t get me in the team. You can’t just be a left-armer and think you can get away by not doing as well as the right-armers. It does help a little, but you still got to be as good as the rest, if not better.”

Of everyone, Unadkat should know this best. In 2010, as a 19-year-old, Unadkat was handed a Test debut in South Africa in the absence of injured fellow left-armer Zaheer Khan. The teenager returned unimpressive figures of 26-4-101-0 and hasn’t played Test cricket since. It’s perhaps become quite easy to forget the fact that he’s still just 29 years old.

“I should probably start writing my age in my bio on social media pages,” Unadkat says. He really should – speaking to the Times of India this week, Karsan Ghavri, the Saurashtra coach during the 2019/20 Ranji Trophy campaign, said an Indian selector had informed him that Unadkat had no chance for a recall to the national side given he is “already 32-33”.

Admittedly, as he reaches 30, age is no longer on his side. But even as India continue to strengthen their fast-bowling reserves with the next big things, this youthful veteran shouldn’t be forgotten in such a hurry.

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