Captaining your team to Ranji Trophy glory is no mean feat. And if you have done it while becoming the leading wicket-taker in the competition, that is just icing on the cake. This is exactly what Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat has achieved this Ranji season and in the process has reignited his hopes for making a comeback for India.
It all began in Centurion when a lanky 18-year-old Jaydev Unadkat made his Test debut for India against South Africa. It was a debut to forget as he failed to pick up even a single wicket and India ended up losing that Test by a huge margin. Unadkat suddenly then disappeared from the international frame for about three years.
After impressing in the domestic white-ball competitions, Unadkat got his break in ODI cricket against Australia but it was the series against Zimbabwe where he really got consistent chances. In the five matches that he had played, he ended up taking eight wickets with the best figures of 4/41. However, he has not made an ODI appearance for India ever since.
Many seasons followed where he was not on the radar of the national selectors due to his inconsistent performances. But it was the 2017 edition of IPL where Unadkat seemed to have finally found his mojo. Playing for the Rising Pune Supergiant, he picked up 24 wickets at an amazing average of 13.41, helping his team reach the finals. His change of pace and subtle variations helped him outfox the batsmen throughout that season.
This breakthrough IPL season earned Unadkat his maiden T20I call-up. In the T20I series against Sri Lanka, he picked up seven wickets and was named as the player of the series. His last T20I appearance came in the Nidahas Trophy in March 2018. He was not able to replicate his IPL 2017 form in the next two editions and thus tapered away from the radar of the selectors again.
Having made it to the final of the Ranji Trophy last year, the 2019-20 season was full of positive expectations for the Saurashtra side. Unadkat was given the responsibility to captain the side and he seemed to relish it from the very get-go. He picked up nine wickets against Himachal Pradesh and ten wickets against Railways to give Saurashtra a flying start to their Ranji season.
Considered as one of the flattest decks in India and a graveyard for bowlers, Unadkat mastered the art of bending the back on the Saurashtra pitch and made great use of the crease. Powerful performances against Baroda and Andhra Pradesh saw Saurashtra set up a semifinal clash with table-toppers Gujarat. A strong performance from Unadkat and a second-innings hundred from Arpit Vasavda helped Saurashtra reach their second successive final.
Saurashtra faced Bengal in the final and the contest looked even on paper. While Bengal had the presence of the experienced Manoj Tiwary and Anushtup Majumdar, Saurashtra were delighted by the availability of Cheteshwar Pujara. In the bowling department, it was about Ishan Porel versus Jaydev Unadkat. Saurashtra posted a daunting first innings score of 425. Bengal were robbed early but Manoj Tiwary and Anushtup Majumdar helped Bengal claw back into the game.
At one point, there was nothing happening for Saurashtra and Majumdar seemed to play very comfortably. But skipper Unadkat stepped up and produced a moment of magic to trap Majumdar in front. He also effected a run-out and helped Bengal get bowled out for 381, taking a lead of 44 runs and helping Saurashtra win their maiden Ranji Trophy title.
Jaydev Unadkat was overjoyed by the result and ended up becoming the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 67 wickets, one less than the all-time record, at a mind-boggling average of 13.73. He is confident that with this performance, he is surely in line for earning a call back into the Test squad after a gap of ten long years. Only time will tell whether this breakthrough season will earn Unadkat a national call-up. But one thing is for sure that he has cemented himself as one of the all-time greats in the history of Saurashtra’s cricket.