There’s never an inopportune time to peak, says Unadkat

Saurashtra pacer Jaydev Unadkat feels that the domestic tournaments in India could benefit from DRS and more neutral curators to prepare pitches.

"I am in a great mindset, bowling great lines and more than anything else, I am enjoying my bowling," Unadkat said.   -  Vijay Soneji

He hails from Porbandar, the birthplace of the Mahatma. He has honed his cricket skills while bowling tirelessly at Cheteshwar Pujara, the odd-man-out in the generation of overbearing Indian cricket. No wonder then that despite pocketing crores of rupees in the Indian Premier League auction over the last decade, Jaydev Unadkat remains a typical  laidback Kathiawari at heart, especially if you catch up with him in his region.

When Sportstar caught up with him during Saurashtra’s Ranji Trophy game against Mumbai last week, the Saurashtra captain had taken a break to recover from the excess workload of the first six matches and to get back at his lethal best in time for the knockouts. At 28,the left-arm pacer is more than a seasoned campaigner, having spent a decade in top-flight cricket and represented India in all three formats of the game.

Just when one wonders whether he has peaked at the wrong time, considering India’s overflowing pace cupboard at the moment, Unadkat offers a candid response. And he also opens up on all things about his season, that of his team and his views on domestic cricket. Read on…

Could you have asked for a better season than this?

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. 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. This is the zone where I want to be and all through this season, I have been right up there.

 

Did you do anything different during the pre-season preparation this time around?

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. I worked on my training. I went to England to work with Steffan (Jones), who was our bowling coach at RR (Rajasthan Royals). I went to see him for 10 days. I think that made a difference to my training, which has kept me fresh and strong throughout the season.

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Just like the last couple of seasons, there was a very short gap between the white-ball formats and the Ranji Trophy. How do you manage the switch to red-ball format?

I was bowling really well with the red-ball last season as well and even in the last season, it was the same schedule. If a player is playing white-ball plus the Duleep Trophy, the Deodhar Trophy and then the red-ball season as well, then there’s not much gap in between. For me, it’s all about being in rhythm. Switching formats is more about mindset rather than physical skills. Just a couple of red-ball sessions will do it for me. I guess I have been enjoying bowling with the red-ball like anything for the last couple of years and it really feels as if I started off from where I left last season.

 

Everyone talks about the mindset change but for a pacer, the real adjustment is especially with length. Are a couple of sessions enough to get it right?

It’s enough if you have played a number of seasons, like I have, then it becomes easier. If you haven’t played anything for a while, say you have played only white-ball for two-three years and got injured in the red-ball leg, then it takes longer. If the gap is more, then you would need more sessions. But you are in your rhythm and are thinking about the game, a couple of sessions are enough to get your lengths right.

 

I haven’t watched too many of Saurashtra’s games but there’s a murmur that bowling on green tops has helped your individual figures a great deal this time around…

I don’t think that was the case. Railways was a flat track. The last game at Motibaug was a green track. Dharamsala wasn’t a green track. It was our first game. But it’s just that at this time of the year, there’s some sort of moisture in the air and the ball is bound to swing with the cold weather. Having said that, I don’t think the pitches have had much impact on my performance. More than half of the games were flat tracks where we managed to get results in our favour.

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Considering the pace battery India has, do you feel you have peaked at an inopportune time?

Ummm… you can’t really say that. There’s never an inopportune time to peak. I am enjoying my bowling, to say the least. I have never really felt this confident about my skills. It’s about what I want to do as a player in my career rather than thinking about why I am doing it right now rather than when it was actually needed. There were times when I got my opportunity, I didn’t really capitalise. What I want to do now is to stretch this period - when I am confident about my skills more than even - and I want to keep stretching it longer and longer. When the time comes, when I get my opportunity again, I should be ready to grab it with both my hands.

 

Let’s talk about Saurashtra now. How much does a set combination of players help for a relatively smaller team like yours?

It really helps a lot. All the players are experienced enough to know their roles in the team even though at times - I won’t say you need to clarify it - just a nudge is what is required for certain individuals. More than that, this team is a unit where we actually enjoy each others’ success. We don’t have many individuals that play at the higher level and the fact that guys are still hungry enough to perform and to show that they belong here just shows what they’re made of. This is one team which doesn’t really have too much of pre-season preparation, not too many pre-season camps. We don’t really have our district games in place as well (due to extended monsoon). Preparation-wise, only three or four of us can actually travel and prepare ourselves by playing the Duleep or Deodhar, but most of these guys don’t really get the ideal game-time. Still, to come into the tournament, soak in the pressure of first-class or List A cricket and then to perform is really a great job.

 

While the team is settled, there’s been a big change at the top with Kadubhai (Karsan Ghavri) coming in as head coach in place of Shitanshu Kotak. How would differentiate their styles?

He has just come into the side. It’s too early to talk about how he has been for us. It’ll obviously take some time for him to get accustomed with how we play as a team. Besides, he played in a different era altogether and I don’t think he has coached a Ranji side for a long time (he was the Mumbai coach in 2005-06). But he has been good. The best thing about him is despite his stature, he is open to listening to every player’s views. He is someone who knows cricket well, so he chips in with motivational or technical inputs whenever a player is required. But apart from that, with a settled combination, the role of a coach or the captain or the manager is very limited.

 

You mentioned about the lack of game time in Saurashtra. When did you realise that you had to move out and play quality cricket in pre-season to improve as a cricketer?

I think after the first couple of years. I started very young, broke in when I was 19. First two-three years were like you are pumped up and want to make your mark. After the first two-three years did I realise that to make a mark on these sort of surfaces, I had to be more than 100 per cent in every game I played. There will again be a lot of expectations when we play away games. That’s where they thought I could win games for Saurashtra. As a reason, for me, there are seldom any games with lesser workload in a season. Having said that, I started understanding my body well, what sort of training I need, that happens with time. After the first three-four seasons, I started understanding myself better, matured as a bowler and now here I am, in control of most of the things I do, if not all.

 

So how do you pass on the same message to some of the promising youngsters like Harvik Desai (U-19 World Cup champion) and Snell Patel (wicketkeeper-batsman who has been selected for Rest of India squad)?

See, as a captain or a senior member of the team, I had ensured that I had a good rapport with all the youngsters while taking over as the captain a couple of years ago. It’s paramount for a smaller group of ours to be on the same page. At the same time, you have to ensure that you don’t get too comfortable with them so that they will always feel the need to be pushed by a senior. That’s the way I have been following and some of these youngsters - like Snell and Harvik - they are extremely talented but at the same time, need to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Hopefully I have been able to achieve it and they also are equally motivated to achieve much more than this level.

 

Let’s talk about the domestic cricket arena. With the additional thrust on doing well overseas, India have been preparing pace-friendly pitches even in India for Tests. Has it trickled down to Ranji Trophy?

I still feel that every team or every ground in the country has its own characteristic. Some teams love playing on green tracks, some on turners. If you see a team like Kerala, they would invariably play four out of four games on turning pitches, whereas if you take Bengal or Baroda, they don’t even have the option of not playing on a green track, even if they don’t want to. So I think every domestic ground or team has its own characteristics. It’s not just about things trickling into domestic cricket from above. Domestic cricket has held its own fort for long. It’s because of the competition and the level of cricket having improved all over, there are at least three-four players from every state who are pushing for places above Ranji Trophy. If you see a team like Andhra, no one would have believed 10 years ago that they would be topping the Ranji Trophy points table towards the end of the league stage. The level of cricket has improved from various regions so much that the standard of cricket has improved rather than changes in the pitch and all.

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So what role do neutral curators play eventually?

It’s a tricky question, to be honest. I have heard some of the groundsmen saying neutral curators aren’t really aware of the local soil and conditions, but that’s how they also learn. They are all experienced and approved by the BCCI so they have been welcoming feedback as well. The basic point of starting it was to ensure the home team doesn’t prepare an underprepared wicket or one with an out-and-out advantage. Yes, there has to be home advantage - that’s how cricket has been played - but there shouldn’t be undue advantage for the home team.

 

If you were to underline three areas of improvement in domestic cricket, what would they be?

I guess the first one is to have DRS at least in the semifinals and final of all the domestic tournaments. It would be of a lot of help because at times, a team suffers due to a poor decision and I am saying it happens in the international circuit, so even here the umpires can give wrong decisions. In international cricket, it can be rectified and teams don’t really feel they are at a disadvantage. In this era of technology, if that can happen in semis and finals at least, that would be of great help.

The second is neutral curators. With the combined points table for Group A and B, teams feel the only way to be in contention for those top five slots is by preparing result-oriented wickets. I just feel in that process, we don’t end up going to the extremes and start preparing poor pitches. That can be taken care of. I think the neutral curators have been trying hard to ensure it doesn’t happen but it still needs a lot of improvement.

And maybe, the points system for Ranji Trophy. If we have points for runs and cricket like they have in county cricket, it can change the whole structure of how we approach a game. The dead phases of the game will be nullified. Even if there’s first innings lead, even in second innings, teams will be motivated to pick batting and bowling points, so such a point structure will be of a great help to the domestic structure going forward.

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