Among India’s biggest strengths in recent times has been how their youngsters have profited from a relatively low-intensity initiation into international cricket before leaving their imprint. Think Yuzvendra Chahal on the tour of Zimbabwe or Kuldeep Yadav on the tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year to drive in this point.
While Chahal and Kuldeep have managed to displace – temporarily, at least – the senior spin pair of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, Shreyas Iyer has managed to find his feet during the ODI series against Sri Lanka with two half-centuries in three matches. Left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat, who made his international debut way back in 2010 but has only sporadically featured since, is the latest beneficiary of such a style of talent management.
Drafted into India’s T20I series against Sri Lanka, Unadkat finished with four wickets in three matches at an economy-rate of 4.88, the lowest on either side. Tasked with leading the pace attack in the absence of the rested Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Unadkat produced figures of 4-0-15-2 to keep Sri Lanka down to 135. Following India’s five-wicket win, he was named both Man of the match and Man of the series. At the end of his first set of international games in a year and a half, Unadkat was understandably happy with how he had fared.
“This series has really helped me to gain that confidence needed at the international level. It was just about doing well once at the ground and getting that confidence. It was just not coming to me when I played for India the previous time,” Unadkat said after the match. “Yes, this series has definitely been a turnaround for me and I really needed [it] at this point in my career and I would be happy to take it forward from here.”
Unadkat was fast-tracked into the Indian team following his stint with the India Under-19 team in 2010. Later that year, he made his Test debut against South Africa in Centurion. He hasn’t added to his appearances in the longest format since, but has had short stints with the limited overs sides. Earlier this year at the IPL, he played a key role in Rising Pune Supergiant’s journey to the final, finishing as their leading wicket-taker with 24 scalps at an economy of 7.02. His clever variations in pace and length, and his calmness in the end overs proved invaluable.
“I have been asked this question a lot about my Test debut – was I too young or was I drafted in too early. I would just say that I was performing really well when I made my Test debut,” he said. “And, the only thing probably which helped me become a better bowler or gain some more skills in my armoury is that I have become a lot more stronger than what I was when I made my debut.
“For a fast bowler, it is the one aspect that really helps build on the skills, the fitness. That’s something that I found out straightaway when I came into the international circuit. To be playing every format and playing throughout the year, it’s really important to improve on the fitness aspect. It’s something that is not related to the game directly but the impact of fitness is going to be on the bowling. Maybe that’s the only thing that has changed.”
In between, he’s been through the domestic grind and has emerged as Saurashtra’s pace spearhead, which he also attributed for his success. “I have certainly matured as a player. Any player who plays through the Indian domestic circuit, playing the T20s, the one-dayers and Ranji Trophy, that too on flat tracks that we play on in Saurashtra [will]. It’s those times it’s just you and yourself you have to motivate.
“Those are the times that you go through the grind and make out what your abilities are and where you need to improve. So, after making my Test debut, going back into domestic cricket knowing already what needs to be done at the highest level did help me in that part of my career. Coming through all these seasons have immensely helped me to know what I need to gain on.”
Along the way, the 26-year-old has also picked up vital cues from the senior fast bowlers in the side like Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah. The competition for fast-bowling slots, he admitted, helped push each bowler to raise the bar higher.
“It’s about backing myself in high-pressure situations,” he said. “I have seen all the good players do that and I’ve learnt from them. Bhuvi and Jasprit Bumrah do it extremely well in pressure situations. At first, I thought I wasn’t completely backing myself to go for those variations. I just thought that this is the need of the hour, so I shouldn’t think of my strengths. Then a time came when I was like it’s about time that I start backing myself. It’s not about what others tell me what is a good ball to bowl at a particular time. It’s about what I think is my strength. After I realized that, it has helped me to back myself in pressure situations.
“[The competition is] extremely good for Indian cricket. It’s a healthy competition going in the fast bowling department, which hasn’t been the case for us in the past few years. Guys are looking to get their opportunity and pushing the bar forward. That just helps us to literally raise the standards higher. Seeing these guys do really well at the international level has helped me improving my standards. I knew if I want to be a part of the Indian team, I really need to improve my standard. It’s all going good for our team and you can see the results as well. The bowling has been terrific in all three formats in the last few years.”
With Ashish Nehra having retired, the slot for a left-arm fast bowler – a style of bowling that’s always in demand – is open. While Unadkat maintained selection wasn’t in his hands, he did agree that a left-arm seamer added to the variety of the attack. “That is something for the management to see, for but I would definitely agree with your point that a left-arm seamer does add to the variety of the team attack and it would be awesome if I will be able to keep doing well for the team and to be a regular player in the limited-overs format,” he said.
“I have got the right start and it is about how I take it from here, how I work on my skills more and more. Players will try and target my skills, they will study what my skills are, now that I have played a few games on the international circuit. I will definitely say a left-arm seamer is something that a team always looks forward to, be it any domestic or an international team.”