When Delhi captain Yash Dhull won the toss on the first morning and opted to bat, Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat gestured to his teammates that they were fielding first and promptly proceeded to the dug-out to pick a brand-new SG red-ball. He spent around seven minutes carefully sifting through the box before settling on one ball.
The warning signs were there for Delhi. The cool breeze, the slightly green pitch, the early morning moisture. The occasional honking cargo trains scudding across behind the sight screen drowned an otherwise intimate atmosphere and rural location in the din. It was all a harbinger of the chaos to come.
Off the very first ball he bowled to opener Dhruv Shorey, Unadkat belted out a loud lbw appeal. The umpire was unmoved. Unadkat’s response was to walk back to his mark and then remove Shorey, Vaibhav Rawal, and Dhull off the third, fourth and fifth deliveries of the match to clinch the first-ever first-over hat-trick in the history of the Ranji Trophy.
“I found out about the record after Stumps,” said a smiling Unadkat. “It’s a truly special feeling and I’m humbled. To be honest, it wasn’t a very green wicket. It’s hard and there’s a tinge of grass. We expected it to take turn, hence chose three spinners and rested Chetan (Sakariya). Today was just one of those days when my planning and execution were on point.”
The Delhi batting was blown to smithereens, seven down for just 10, by a rampaging Unadkat seemingly bent on reaffirming his status as one of India’s best red-ball bowlers as the selectors whittle down options ahead of next month’s Border-Gavaskar series at home. The left-arm seamer finished with career-best figures of eight for 39 as Delhi was skittled for 133.
Unadkat made his Test comeback in Bangladesh last year after a gap of nearly 12 years. He dismissed Zakir Hasan for his first Test wicket and finished with a match haul of three for 67. Unadkat had replaced Kuldeep Yadav, who was the player of the match in the first Test.
“The Test return has come after a long time. The confidence that I’ve got from it is something that I’ll cherish throughout the games that I play. I’ll take it one game at a time. A Ranji [Trophy] game is as important to me as any other match that I play. So that’s what I will focus on for now.”
This one-sided day’s play will not be remembered as a classic of the genre but Unadkat’s threatening opening spell was yet another timely reminder of the reason there is so much consternation from wider Indian cricket quarters when the 31-year-old isn’t considered for Test cricket.
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