Unadkat ready to shake off the one-Test wonder tag

"I have become stronger over the last few years. I know my body much better now. I have also matured as a bowler. I know how to set up a batsman, bowl to different batsmen on different wickets in different scenarios. That’s something you can only learn from experience," says Jaydev Unadkat.

Jaydev Unadkat’s strike rate during the Ranji season was 37.7. It is the second-best for a bowler with 35-plus wickets, behind team-mate Ravindra Jadeja’s 25.5.   -  Prashant Nakwe

Of the 285 Test cricketers India has produced, 49 have ended up being one-Test wonders. Jaydev Unadkat is in the list at least for now. The manner in which the Saurashtra pace bowler was selected to the Indian Test side and then immediately discarded remains one of the mysteries of Indian cricket in recent years.

A wonderful Under-19 World Cup outing in 2010 was followed by a first class debut for India A, that too in England. A 13-wicket haul against West Indies A in his maiden outing impressed the Indian team management. Less than a month later, Unadkat, along with Umesh Yadav, was summoned by the India think-tank to Sri Lanka ahead of the team’s preparations for a three-Test series.

The left-armer didn't have the pace but could move the ball at will. It impressed one and all and Unadkat was selected as Zaheer Khan’s understudy during India’s tour of South Africa later that year. With the senior statesman breaking down with an injury, Unadkat was inducted into the Test squad at Centurion. He, however, failed to make any impact.

The teenager was then sent back to the rigours of domestic cricket. It has been more than five years since, and Unadkat has become stronger and wiser with time and has emerged as Saurashtra’s wrecker-in-chief in domestic cricket. However, sparse appearances in ODIs haven’t really helped him overcome the ghosts of Centurion.

Positive thinking

While the critics — even the connoisseurs — refer to him as a one-Test wonder, Unadkat said he never got such a feeling, even in 2010. "I was just 18 or 19 years old when I made my Test debut, so that feeling never came into my mind. There is absolutely no logic behind that. When you have at least 15-16 years of cricket before you, there is no way you should be thinking negative,” said Unadkat, ahead of Rest of India’s Irani Cup match against Ranji Trophy champion Mumbai.

“The support structure I had around me always pushed me to look at the brighter side. I always continued to aspire for playing at the highest level. There was no point in looking back and getting disappointed about it. And as far as how my career has moved so far, I am pretty happy with the way things have shaped up so far.”

Since his forgettable Test debut, Unadkat has worked on every aspect of a genuine pace bowler. And he is confident that he is ready to wear the white flannels at the highest level again.

“I was quite young at that time (in 2010). I was raw as well. Once you play a couple of domestic seasons, you get matured. I hope you know what I mean. Just by playing on different wickets — flat beds or turners — going through a gruelling four-day match, fielding for over 100 overs and still bowling 30 of them, you get to learn a lot naturally,” Unadkat said.

“I have become stronger over the last few years. I know my body much better now. I have also matured as a bowler. I know how to set up a batsman, bowl to different batsmen on different wickets in different scenarios. That’s something you can only learn from experience. With five years experience, I would say that’s the biggest gain for me, to become a better cricketer.”

The Irani Cup will be a crucial step for Unadkat in realising his objective of earning a recall to the Test squad. With India set to play 17 Test matches during the next 12 months, Unadkat, along with Mumbai pace duo of Dhawal Kulkarni and Shardul Thakur, will be keen to make a strong case to the national selectors.

Initial phase of Ranji Trophy frustrating

Considering where Unadkat was at the start of the season, to emerge as a contender for the national team is a huge achievement in itself. Having recovered from a serious injury that forced him to miss most of the previous season, the 24-year-old medium-pacer found himself redundant with Saurashtra opting for turning tracks for its first three Ranji Trophy games. Unadkat, however, took things in his stride.

“It was frustrating, I would say. Not that I was happy being virtually sidelined. Being the strike bowler of the team and not even getting five-six overs to bowl per game was frustrating. But that was part of the team strategy. I don’t complain about it since it worked for the team,” Unadkat said.

It helped him improve on the other aspect of his game, he added.

“I would say it proved as a blessing for me because it was during that phase that I started to focus on my batting. I started spending more time in the nets while batting. That’s an area where I have improved a lot of late. Those three matches where I hardly played a part as a bowler presented me with an opportunity to closely look at my batting and it has worked. These days, if a bowler can contribute with the bat, it is always better for him over the course of his career.”

The next five days will present Unadkat with the opportunity to square up against the fancied Mumbai batsmen for the second time in as many weeks. During the last week’s Ranji final in Pune, Unadkat made early inroads against Mumbai on the second morning but found himself at the receiving end the next day once Siddhesh Lad was dropped off his bowling.

If he can polish off the Mumbai batting, Unadkat would not only do a world of good for himself but also offer some solace to his Saurashtra team-mates who suffered a humiliating defeat in the Ranji final.