India might look at Jaydev Unadkat in the upcoming ODI series against Australia in their pursuit to strengthen their bench strength in the case of injuries to their mainline fast bowlers. In addition to Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India have dabbled with Khaleel Ahmed to have a left-arm pacer in the mix. If the selectors decide to give Unadkat a go, at least one man won’t be surprised; Wasim Jaffer, India’s premier domestic batsman, reckons Unadkat is the best left-arm seamer in the country.
“He has matured as a bowler, he doesn’t give easy balls to hit. Doesn’t allow to score, achhe areas mein bowling karta hai. He has started to reverse swing as well. Pressure bana ke rakhta hai all the time, the quality of good bowler is that they don’t give loose balls. He is the best at the moment,” says Jaffer, who played Unadkat in two Ranji games this season.
With Australia touring for five ODIs and two T20s, Unadkat might get an opportunity as India seek to test their reserves. India bowling coach Bharat Arun has talked about the value of a left-arm seamer — and it was one of the reasons Khaleel was given a run. There aren’t many places up for grabs, especially with three seamers and two spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal already in the squad. Also, the presence of Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar as seam bowling all-rounders further strengthens the bowling attack. But considering India have tried Khaleel in the recent past, it won’t be a surprise if Unadkat gets an opportunity in the Australia series as they try to develop their bench strength to cover for any injuries to their premier bowlers.
A much-improved bowler
Jaffer says Unadkat is a bowler who can swing the ball both ways and now has greater control over his art than before. “If you come after bowling on a pitch like Rajkot, it becomes easier as a seamer to bowl on other pitches. He has improved his skill and is definitely bowling well — no doubt about that. He has improved as a cricketer and probably understood where he was falling short in the past.”
Unadkat starred in the Ranji Trophy, taking 39 wickets from eight games. The last 18 came in knock-out games against teams like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and eventual champions Vidarbha.
Unadkat believes that his mindset has changed and he has stopped thinking about selection. After being sold for Rs 11.5 crore to Rajasthan Royals to become the most expensive player in the last IPL season, he had talked about how he put too much pressure on himself and how that hurt his performances. He went back to the drawing board and has worked on his mind and the game.
“It’s the mindset, the mindset to come out on top in any situation. Earlier, I used to look at what game I’m playing, where I’m playing. Four-day game, T20 game, how should I protect my body for the coming games. I just felt I was stressing a lot more on external things. I think it’s a mindset of not worrying about other factors and just thinking about being on top of the game,” Unadkat explains.
At the start of the Ranji season, he worked hard on his fitness with trainer Nishant Bordoloi, who was part of the Delhi Daredevils team. They worked on functional training — that helped him to bowl longer spells and sustain his energy and intensity through the day.
“Nishant told me to work on specific parts of the body than doing general fitness stuff. He made me realise that it is important to load up the body and work before the tournament so that I don’t break before the end of the tournament,” Unadkat says.
He has always been confident about his own skill-set as a bowler. “My strength has been to swing the ball both ways. It has been a strength since the beginning. It’s just that people were watching me doing well in IPL and somehow the notion set in that I can only bowl well in T20s where I use a lot of cutters etc. Now that the Ranji season was televised and people have seen me bowl more, probably the perception is changing.”
He recovered from the IPL blues with help from his sister Dheera and his friend Shobha Bhutada, an IPS officer. While his sister asked him why he was taking so much pressure as “baaki log hain na team mein (there are other people also in the team, right?),” the cop shared how she handles pressure in her work. “She told me how she deals with it but also said how she loves her job despite all the pressure. That love is important,” Unadkat recalls.
Does he think about the competition in the Indian team and how Khaleel Ahmed is the first choice these days as a left-arm seamer? Unadkat says he doesn’t want to think whether he will be selected or not.
“That’s because what worked for me is being able to give my best in whatever game I have played. Captaincy (in Ranji) came at the right moment, my thinking has changed. I just want to live in the moment and not worry too much about the future – and selections. Playing for the nation will always be there at the back of my mind but it’s about how much importance you give to it. I don’t want to over-think and let it affect my focus — which is to live in the moment and bowl as well as I can in every game I play.”