With new arrows in the quiver, Jaydev Unadkat leaves his mark

Aryan Surana

Unadkat scalped 67 wickets in the 2019-20 Ranji trophy with a staggering average of 13.23

Jaydev Unadkat isn't your quintessential fast bowler -- a genuine speedster who chalks up express pace or the indefatigable, sturdy bloke who's a nightmare to face. He's nowhere close to being that.

Rarely does he clock speeds north of 140kmph. Seldom would you see him fire a nasty one that whizzes past the helmet grille or breach through the defenses with an absolute peach. And hence, it doesn't take a genius to fathom why the left-arm quick has been under the radar as far as opportunities at the senior level are concerned.

Stating the bleeding obvious, Unadkat lacked what many term the 'X-factor'.

Though the occasional flashes of brilliance in the domestic arena did ensure lucrative franchise contracts, his credentials haven't been promising enough to make the national selectors stand up and take notice. Even when they did once in a blue moon, like in the Centurion Test in 2010 or on the inconsequential Zimbabwe tours, Unadkat never got an extended run and faded away from the scene without making his presence felt. While fellow statemen Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, and Cheteshwar Pujara rose to esteemed prominence in short order, he was left doing the hard grind behind the curtains.

"There were times when I got my opportunity, I didn’t really capitalize," he confessed.

Unadkat was the fulcrum in Saurashtra's triumphant campaign

It's a tough ask to make peace with being left out of the reckoning even before your career has taken flight, and you have nobody to blame but yourself for not delivering on your promise. Imagine the frustration of witnessing your colleagues achieve demigod status across the globe while you ply your trade on benign, unresponsive pitches tailor-made for run-scoring.

However, professional sport doesn't spare any room for dealing with melancholy. You've got to banish the ghosts of the bygone and get on with it. The countless practice sessions, the morning runs, the tedious gym programs, and the diet restrictions await.

And at times, braving through all that only to conclude the season with mediocre returns, and then having to start from scratch yet again. It's a vicious cycle.

During the travail, niggles must have felt like a debilitating companion. Even precious little signs of progress would have been elusive. The mental strain could have reached the point where the thought of never being able to make it would have crossed the mind. Amidst the dark moments, however cliched it may sound, it was the desire to get better every single day without fretting about what had transpired in the past that pushed Unadkat forward.

"I've developed a mindset where I am not going to be worried about the outcomes or eventualities, something that has had an impact on me at times in the last couple of years. It has been hard to come out of tough phases," he reflected.

The 28-year old's journey has been replete with crests and troughs.

"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," Unadkat admits.

And thus, it has been a real pleasure to watch the gangly seamer lead from the front, dominate the wicket chart, and bowl Saurashtra to their maiden Ranji title.

Unadkat had thrown every ounce of his energy into this campaign, and the results have fittingly followed.

"In terms of training, I made a few changes to be in sync with the evolving game. That’s how, the cricketing fraternity is developing its regime, developing knowledge to the minutest details rather than generalising even when you train,'' he highlighted.

Numbers vindicate the assertion every inch. After all, he has bagged 67 scalps in the prestigious round-robin tournament with a staggering average of 13.23, besides shattering the record for the most number of wickets by a fast bowler in a single season. That the most vital spells came during the high-pressure knockout games was the icing on the cake.

"It’s been great. Not just about the number of wickets but it’s been a great journey overall. I am in a great mindset, bowling great lines and more than anything else, I am enjoying my bowling. That’s the criteria I have set for myself going forward," Unadkat quipped gleefully.

Over the years, perseverance encompassed Unadkat's modus operandi. He always thrived on sticking to nagging channels and eliciting mistakes from the opposition rather than dictating terms upfront. This year, variation and aggression have been the buzzwords. Whenever the tried-and-tested formula of landing the ball in the 'corridor of uncertainty' seemed futile, Unadkat shelved his conservatism and explored his gamut of options.

He would steam in from round the wicket to disrupt the monotony, release the cherry with a slightly unconventional grip, or chance his arm by unfurling the deceptive yorker or the dipping slower delivery. The odd attempted bouncers and the sucking half-volleys bore fruit when nothing appeared to be working. Unlike the Unadkat of yore, who became predictable as soon as the deck's firmness rescinded, the current avatar made sure batsmen were posed with fresh challenges every now and then, with or without assistance at his disposal.

Unadkat was no more a one-trick pony. The X-factor had been finally discovered.

"I will be surprised if he is not picked in the Indian team," said teammate Pujara.

In essence, these are early days to talk about whether Unadkat has done enough to impress the selectors. Though with Ishant Sharma's ankle injury resurfacing, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar being handed out a pink slip, the prospect of a Test recall cannot be entirely dismissed. Just like Sam Curran does for England, Unadkat can lend variety to India's attack with his nippy slanters and clever change-ups.

The speculations can wait for now as a day after marshaling Saurashtra to victory, he announced his engagement with girlfriend Rinny. Who knows? Maybe for a certain Jaydev Unadkat, lady luck might just do the trick.