Ranji Trophy: How did Unadkat turn it around for Saurashtra?

The Saurashtra captain picked the post-tea session to bring himself into the attack and pick the one wicket, of Parthiv Patel, that would assure his team of victory.

Jaydev Unadkat

A jubilant Jaydev Unadkat is applauded as he walks off the field after bowling Saurashtra to a win.   -  VIJAY SONEJI

Jaydev Unadkat isn’t really known for his aggression. Rather, he is a soft-spoken cricketer, who loves to stay calm and composed. Those who have followed him since his formative years would agree, too.

But then, at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, Unadkat arrived in a new avatar -- aggressive and animated. With sweat trickling down his tee, the 28-year-old rushed towards the players arena with a stump in his hand. He waved at the crowd, who were so far cheering for his team, raised the stump and then sprinted back to the ground to join his team-mates for a huddle.

It was barely a couple of minutes since Saurashtra had beaten Gujarat by 92 runs to make it to yet another Ranji Trophy final. And Unadkat’s body language clearly indicated that the speedster was under tremendous pressure -- to get a breakthrough and guide his team home.

“We would have lost the game by the time the new ball came into play. The only thing that we spoke about was a breakthrough,” Unadkat admitted later.

Read: Unadkat’s fiery spell steers Saurashtra into final

Despite losing five wickets early, the match was still wide open -- courtesy, a long stand by Parthiv Patel and Chirag Gandhi -- and in front of the home crowd, Saurashtra desperately needed one good spell to turn things around.

And Unadkat was counting on the post-tea session.

“I wanted a break somehow. I knew if I have to do it for the team, it has to be after tea. Because that’s the time when they are not sure how to go about it. Luckily, I could do it,” he said, still in disbelief that his seven-wicket haul -- tenth in the match -- had actually cruised the team home.

During the tea break, Unadkat had a discussion with coach Niraj Odedra and head coach Karsan Ghavri, trying to figure out a road map for the last session. There was a sense of apprehension for sure, but then the think tank decided that ‘JD’ -- as Unadkat is fondly known -- will try one last time, to pull things their way.

“I had bowled a lot by then. So even I was looking for that break and then attack. That plan worked and I can’t be happier as a captain. We kept pushing each other…”

This has been a dream season for the Saurashtra captain -- who has scalped 65 wickets in the tournament so far. But he knew that all the personal milestones will have very little meaning if Gujarat stole the game away.

“All that mattered was one wicket, which would change the game for us. Before I got the wicket of Parthiv, I kept telling myself that I could give away all the wickets that I have claimed so far, for this one scalp. That sort of gave me some energy,” Unadkat said with a smile. “The ball wasn’t doing as much. It was just the momentum that changed it for us…”

Until the semifinals, Saurashtra was largely considered a ‘one man army’ this season, with the entire team depending on Unadkat. But after his side registered one of its ‘best victories ever’, the captain differed. “I don’t think so. The way we came back into the game after being at 15-5 was unbelievable. Arpit (Vasavada) played the knock of his life. The one thing that I will remember forever is the decision to send Chetan Sakariya early…”

After a batting debacle put the team under pressure on the third day, Unadkat decided to promote Sakariya up the order -- a move that changed the game. “Chetan bats at No. 11. I got him ready in just two minutes. I rushed to the dressing room, helped him pad up and asked him to go out and bat…”

And Sakariya stitched a crucial partnership with Vasavada, which eventually laid the foundation for Saurashtra’s win. And that’s one decision, captain ‘JD’ will always be proud of. Win or lose -- Unadkat has already found his moment of the tournament!

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