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Jaydev Unadkat on his stellar Ranji season, camaraderie with Steven Smith, IPL 2020 aspirations and more

Jaydev Unadkat is someone who made his Test debut at the young age of 19 years. A bowler who was once being tipped as ‘one for the future’ by none other than the legendary Wasim Akram. A player who has commanded hefty price-tags during each of the last three Indian Premier League auctions. Yet, by his own admission, his performances during all these years had been ‘well below his own expectations’.

But, not anymore!

The 28-year-old Unadkat believes that he is in the best phase of his career right now. On Monday, he will be leading Saurashtra out in the final of the Ranji Trophy for the second consecutive time and, that too, only in his second season as the captain. Not only that, the added responsibility of leading the side has allowed him to bring the best out of him as a bowler as well. His tally of 65 wickets is not only the highest among all bowlers in this Ranji season but also the most by a pacer in a single season of the Ranji Trophy. And, if his stellar bowling form is anything to go by, something similar can be expected from him in the forthcoming edition of the IPL as well.

In an exclusive interview with cricketnews.com, Jaydev Unadkat spoke in detail about his dream run in this Ranji season, how the added responsibility of captaincy has helped him in becoming a better bowler, his IPL 2020 aspirations, camaraderie with Steven Smith and more.

This Ranji season has been fabulous for you. You have hardly put a foot wrong. Can we say that we are watching Jaydev Unadkat at his peak?

I have never been more confident of my skills and I am at the peak of my fitness levels as well. Moreover, I am 28 years old now and it is the right age for a fast bowler to peak. So, I can’t agree more with what you said considering the kind of rhythm and mindset I am in now.

You have been performing well in domestic cricket for quite a few years. But the last two seasons in particular have seen you rise as a better bowler. So what particular change did you bring about in your approach?

The major thing which has worked out well for me is the way I have started understanding my game and skills since the last two seasons. I am more confident now. I used to doubt myself previously. I used to think whether I am good enough to play at the highest level. But I have stopped thinking like that now and I am pretty much in sync with my mind.

Not only in terms of your individual performance, but we have seen you flourish as a leader since the last season as well. How are you enjoying your responsibility as a captain?

I have enjoyed the responsibility so far and leadership comes quite naturally to me, if I can say so. Not just in cricket but I like to take the leadership in general scenarios as well. I think that brings the best out of me in any situation no matter wherever I am. Moreover, I am fortunate enough to have a bunch of guys who support me so much. They believe that whatever I do will be for the good of the team and for the sake of their individual improvement as well. So it helps to have so many guys supporting you but, yeah, I love this responsibility and it brings the best out of me.

What aspect of your leadership helps you in getting the best out of you as a bowler?

I think that’s the urge to step up and deliver whenever the team requires, whenever the going gets tough. Leadership gives me that added boost and motivation which works out for me very well. As a strike bowler, you always want to provide the crucial breakthrough for your team anyway. And captaincy only enhances my urge to do that more often. Moreover, teammates always look up to the captain in tough situations and their confidence in me somehow helps me to deliver my best as well.

One of the most fascinating aspects of your bowling are your stellar numbers at Rajkot, which is considered to be one of the most unhelpful venues for pacers. So what makes you tick here?

It is challenging for sure, more than that in any other ground in the country. But I have had the mindset for the last five six seasons that this is going to be my home ground for the rest of my career. So rather than crying foul about it I concentrated on finding ways to succeed here. And I can say that I have found my ways now which are not very complex. In fact, they are very simple. You have to be as much accurate with your line and length as possible at this venue. You have to attack the stumps consistently to increase your chances of picking up a wicket. In other grounds you might get the wickets sooner but here you may have to toil hard for session after session. You can’t bog down as a bowler. The motivation has to be there and you can’t say that you can’t pick up wickets as the track isn’t helping. That kind of mindset has helped me immensely in succeeding in these conditions over the years.

You have the best strike-rate in domestic cricket since the 2013-14 season. And you have done that without bowling at express pace. But, have you considered increasing your pace looking at the increased emphasis on bowlers with brisk pace in Indian cricket right now?

I think the main thing that has to be clear in the mind — not only mine but also in that of others watching from outside — is whether you want only pace or wickets as well. Results matter in the end. There are a lot of guys who bowl at over 140 kph but don’t pick up as many wickets as they should. So pace is not the only thing that is required. You also need to have the skills to take wickets. That is how a strike-bowler is defined. What matters is how many ways you have to take wickets, both with the new ball and the old ball. And, as I said, I am in sync with my mind and confident of my skills as well. So I am not going to tell myself to focus on pace only, I think I have enough pace to beat the best batsmen in our circuit. As long as I am fit enough and improving, the consistency will be there in terms of pace as well. With the kind of skill I have, I don’t think I require 140+ kph speed to succeed.

Do you think this Ranji performance can get you your place back in the Indian Test squad in the coming times?

To be honest, I don’t look at it in a way that I should be instantly rewarded. If I continue to be consistent with my performances as I have been in the last couple of years, I’ll get my reward for sure. There are a lot of factors which work to get the place back in the team but I am sure that my time will come. But that doesn’t mean that that I would be disappointed if I don’t get my chance.

Have the selectors been in touch with you of late?

No, they haven’t been in touch with me yet. But I am hopeful about the future.

Speaking about the IPL, your performances in the last couple of seasons haven’t been quite up to the mark despite your fabulous numbers in domestic cricket. So have you been able to identify any particular reason behind such contrasting fortunes?

If I look at it in hindsight now, I have found out that I had been trying too hard to prove myself. Not to prove to anyone else but to myself that I am good enough. I had a lot of self expectations in those couple of seasons and that made me stressful which in turn didn’t allow me to perform to the best of my ability. If I try to take things normally now instead of that added pressure of expectations on myself, may be that will benefit me a lot.

Rajasthan Royals have released you during the last two seasons and yet bought you back again in the auctions. So what has been the communication from their side while releasing you? Did they assure you that they are going to buy you back on both occasions?

Yes, they did. That has always been the case and they have always told me that I am an integral part of the team. It’s just because I haven’t been in prime form in any of the two seasons and there is nothing wrong in releasing and buying me back. At the end of the day, it’s business and there is nothing wrong if they can save some money at the auction for buying someone else. That is how the auction dynamics work but they have always assured that they consider me as an integral part of the team, and I am happy that they have done that.


How do you deal with the pressure of delivering on the hefty sum of money you have earned at the auction for the last three seasons?

As I said, it was all about the pressure of my self expectations. I wanted to prove it to myself than anybody else. That was all that was on my mind rather than the auction amount. I think I am above all that right now.

The IPL, ever since its inception, has opened up the doors for youngsters to learn from quality international players. If I ask you to name one such person, whose advice has helped you in shaping your career, who would that be?

There can’t be just one person for it. It is an experience as a whole. There are a lot of guys who work behind the scenes who give you advice at times. So I can’t credit one person if you ask me, all the people I have come across in my journey have helped in making me the player, and also the person, I am today.

You have been playing in the IPL for almost a decade now and you have played under many captains while playing for multiple teams. Whom would you rate as the best one out of them?

I think all of them are good in their own way. I can’t really rate anyone as better than someone. But, since I had a great season with the Rising Pune Supergiants in 2017, I can say that Smithy (Steven Smith) was really good. We had a great camaraderie between us. But, having said that, I enjoyed equally playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013 under Virat (Kohli), or for that aspect I enjoyed playing for Delhi Daredevils when JP Duminy was the captain. But I think whoever gets to be a captain in a franchise tournament like the IPL has to be really good at his job. So you can’t pick a favourite for sure.

You said you enjoyed playing under Steve Smith in 2017 and you will be playing under him for the Royals this season once again. So do you think this combination might help you in regaining the midas touch in IPL?

I would be the happiest if that turns out to be the case eventually but, as I said, I don’t want to look at it in that way now. I don’t want to put any sort of expectation even on anything. The only thing I want to do is to trust my skills and go into the IPL with the same mindset as I am in now. If I can do that along with having a guy like Smith, who trusts my abilities so much, around me then it will be great for me. So I am hoping for the best.

It might still be a long shot but, do you think a good IPL season could help you in cementing a place in India’s squad for the T20 Wolrd Cup?

I think it’s a bit far away for me now. At the moment, my whole focus is on the Ranji finals and the IPL that is coming up. I don’t believe in having goals which put pressure on your performance but every single game I play from here on, I want to trust my skills and believe I am good enough to get to that level.

Prasenjit Dey is freelance cricket journalist based out of Kolkata, India. Cricket runs through his veins and writing has always been his passion. He is now a part of both worlds, trying to make a difference by writing on the nitty-gritty of the game.

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