Saurashtra’s domestic cricket team has been led by legends like Jaydev Unadkat and Cheteshwar Pujara. In contrast to Unadkat’s two Test appearances, Pujara played 97 times for India with the red ball, cementing his position as India’s No. 3 batsman in a legendary batting order. When Mohammed Shami’s substitute, Unadkat, arrived in Chattogram in India whites after a visa delay, Pujara was overjoyed.
“When I wore the shirt for the first time, even though I didn’t play in the first game, he commented, “You are looking excellent.” That came straight from the heart and I could tell how thrilled he was for me,” Unadkat told PTI after returning from Bangladesh.
“Having fun with him was a unique experience. After years of trying, he finally encouraged me to give it one last shot. He’s been a team member for almost a decade, and I look up to him because he’s set such a great example. I find it quite inspiring that he was able to play 98 Tests despite the many challenges he had to overcome throughout his career.”
Unadkat’s 2010 Test debut, straight from the India U-19 team, was a disappointing one. In India’s lone innings in the Test against South Africa, he took zero wickets. The 31-year-old left-arm seamer, though, made the most of his extensive local experience in his second Test, last week’s match against Bangladesh.
After Bangladesh elected to bat, India went nearly 15 overs without taking a wicket with the new ball. Both Najmul Hossain Shanto and Zakir Hasan remained alert and steady throughout. Unadkat, brought in as a first-over replacement, consistently changed his length and landed the ball in the off-stump area. His maiden Test wicket came when he got a length ball to jump off a decent length and catch Hasan at gully.
In his own words: “I was attempting to extract bounce off length and I felt like I could achieve that,” Unadkat explained. “One of my favourite cricketing recollections is the moment I took my first Test wicket. A thousand times, I pictured myself taking a wicket in a Test match.
“The coaches and managers gave me a shot because they thought I would do well out there. It was very much like [in Rajkot]. Because of this, you’ll need to hit the length hard in order to get as much speed as possible off the wicket. With this confidence that good things would come my way if I played to my skills, I sprung into action.”
Despite being the player of the first Test, Kuldeep Yadav was benched in favour of Unadkat for the second encounter. India, having played all spinners in the first game, decided to go with three seamers on a pitch that was likely to turn as the day progressed. Unadkat claimed he wasn’t bothered about taking over for Kuldeep.
He added, “I just wanted to contribute.” “If you can’t take a wicket, put pressure on the opposition from your end. The idea was just that.
“In that respect, I owe a great deal to domestic cricket. Even when you’re not picking up wickets, you still have a valuable job to perform as a bowler. Bowlers can benefit from the pressure you apply and the uncertainty you instil in the batter.”
Unadkat battled away on the domestic circuit and led Saurashtra to plenty of success while a Test call-up eluded him for about 12 years. In 2019-20, he took 67 wickets as Saurashtra won the Ranji Trophy for the first time in their history. He has collected 115 wickets in 21 games throughout the course of the last three seasons of play.
“I always thought I’d get another shot,” he remarked. “To be perfectly honest, I had no idea how to accomplish it, seeing as how the Indian pacers had been so successful over the previous three years. The truth is that I was getting motivation from watching them.
“Being the leader of Saurashtra has allowed me to tune out all other noise and concentrate on my game. It’s given me a glimpse into the future. As captain of the Saurashtra team, I am responsible for the success of the group as a whole, not simply my own individual efforts. That encouraged me to keep going.
Unadkat isn’t thinking too far ahead to January and February, when India will host Australia for a Test series. “Truthfully, I’ve found that lowering my expectations has helped me. All I can think about is the next Ranji match. It will happen if it must.”