Updated: Dec 11, 2022
Jaydev Unadkat lead Saurashtra to their second Vijay Hazare title in 2022-23 edition. Under Jaydev Unadkat, Saurashtra lift their maiden Ranji Trophy in 2019-20. Jaydev Unadkat called up as Mohammed Shami's replacement for Bangladesh Tests.
Domestic cricket in India is a vineyard in itself where a new talent is born every day. On the other hand, the elderly and experienced need to age like a bottle of wine in order to produce the best results, with players peaking after reaching their 30s. One such astute person has been Jaydev Unadkat. To say the least, the man who has rebuilt Saurashtra cricket from ground up is impressive.
Saurashtra were always a brilliant red ball team, but when the format shifted to white ball, the same Saurashtra looked ordinary. What is the difference, one may ask? The mentality.
Unadkat took over as captain of Saurashtra in 2018 and thanks to his international experience, not only changed the culture of his side’s white-ball cricket but also the mental model with which they approached the shorter formats. Ever since the dawn of Unadkat era, Saurashtra reached the quarter final of Vijay Hazare Trophy (VHT) in the 2020–21 season, the semi-final in the 2021–22 season, and as the pattern suggests, tripled it up by winning the final in 2022–23, beating Maharashtra by five wickets to claim their second Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Inside a cricketer's mind: Fear! Insecurity! Position in the team!
The captain, coach and management all brainstormed positively to understand the pain points of batters in shorter formats. Fear! Insecurity! Position in the team! While we see the merry side on the screen, what goes on behind the mind of a batter is, to say the least, terrible. The fear of getting out in an attempt to up the scoring rate was the major concern among Saurashtra batters, which the management addressed by giving the batters freedom to go for big shots, and if they got out attempting a six or a four, it was all well understood within the group.
Arpit Vasavada who has been one of Saurashtra’s pillars in red ball cricket, and is known for his useful contributions down the order with proper Test match-like innings, was a pure first-class batter as he barely hit any sixes in white-ball cricket until 2018. But things changed when the Unadkat era began in 2018; Vasavada has hit as many sixes as any other batter in his team. Well, that’s what a change in mindset does to a player.
"He is a formidable red-ball batter, but he would take his time. He is experienced, and we had a word with him. If he were to be on the defensive side, he would have to be more attacking. He had to develop those lofted shots. He did not hit a six before 2018. Now he has hit an equal number of sixes as any other batter in the side if I am not wrong. That was evident in the style of play. They were doing well but did possess that sense of fear. My job was specifically to remove that very fear," Unadkat told the Cricbuzz after the conclusion of Saurashtra’s VHT 2022-23 final against Maharashtra.
While Vasavada’s was a case in point of a mindset shift in the batting department, Unadkat brought the fitness regime to the bowling and fielding departments too, which translated into better match performances and fielding standards. Basically, everything that an international team does at the highest level, Unadkat brought all his international experience to the table to shape Saurashtra’s white-ball cricket. The bowlers were strategically aligned to attack the batters, look for wickets and not worry about leaking runs, while the fielders were trained specifically on certain skill sets and match fitness to implement direct hits and complete momentum-shifting catches on the field. And guess what? It all paid dividends for Saurashtra in the final analysis.
Karnataka might not have stalled under pressure in the semi-final, if it hadn't been for Prerak Mankad's diving catch at third slip, which sent Sharath BR packing. To top that up, the fit and fast fielding caused two crucial run outs in the all-important final, which brought the game back into Saurashtra’s grasp as the dangerous Ruturaj Gaikwad was caught short of his ground in the final overs. Rutu’s wicket ensured Maharashtra did not score anything above 300 as Maharashtra had 8 more overs left in the bank when Gaikwad got out.
"We are a much fitter team now, and it has helped immensely in our fielding. The Prerak catch at third slip is the best I have seen in that position. Because it was a blinder, it shifted the momentum in the semi-final," he explains. "Then those run outs in the final (of Pavan Shah and Mukesh Choudhary)... They gave us a huge advantage in the match," Unadkat said after the finals.
All in all, what changed Saurashtra’s fortunes?
Mindset? Culture? Management? Players? No! First and foremost, the only thing that brought about these changes was the leader! Yes. A leader often goes unnoticed when the team collectively does well. But what makes the team collectively do well? It is purely the support and trust of a leader, not a captain. As the saying goes, "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way."
And Unadkat has been the true leader, literally knowing and doing the best from the front, claiming the highest wicket-taker spot in VHT 2022–23 with 19 wickets in 10 matches. Furthermore, and perhaps surprisingly for trivia buffs, Jaydev was the only bowler to bowl more than 90 overs this season, with best bowling figures of 5/23.
On the night of the finals, where the pressure was as high as the peak of Mount Everest, the captain stood tall and handsome. He bowled a tight spell of 10 overs, giving just 25 runs and picking one wicket in the process, which put pressure on Gaikwad and Satyajit Bacchav. In fact, the spell was like a vacuum cleaner, which sucked runs off Gaikwad’s bat, as the Maharashtra captain was struggling at eight runs off 42 deliveries at one point.
One might say, "What can top up a good bowling spell?" In Jaydev’s case, there are many such stories. Not many captains, in fact, forget captains, not many cricketers would have the big heart to come up to the post-match presentation ceremony — not just any post-match but a semi-final post-match presentation ceremony — and actually share their Player of the Match (POTM) award with other team members. Right?
Yes. Saurashtra’s captain was adjudged the POTM in the semi-final for his 4-26, which dismantled Karnataka’s solid top and middle order. Jaydev quietly called Jay Gohil on the stage and presented him with the award, as the latter had scored a brilliant, cool and composed innings of 61 runs while chasing in the semi-final.
Unadkat makes comeback into Test squad after 12 years but is he the best choice?
"Dear Red ball, give me one more chance, I won't disappoint. Promise!" Jayant had tweeted at the beginning of 2022 and guess what? Eleven months later, he has received his well-deserved comeback into the red-ball setup. On the morning of 10 December 2022, the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2022-23 winning Saurashtra captain received a sudden call up back to India's red-ball setup as he replaced the injured Mohammad Shami in the squad. Unadkat last played a Test match for India at Centurion against South Africa in December 2010.
One life lesson for the young kinds out their aspiring to be India's next gen cricketers - Never. Ever. Give. Up.
On the contrary, the new BCCI committee is again going the topsy turvy way. As confused as a toddler, playing around with players like a toy. While Jaydev Unadkat, being 32, is approaching the twilight of his international cricket career and pundits would say, is it too late for Unadkat to be making a comeback? Did the BCCI again make a mistake by not backing left-arm pacers in the name of Mukesh Choudhary & Khaleel Ahmad who have fresher and younger legs, or someone like right-arm medium pacer Saurabh Kumar who is in top form in the first-class circuit of late with series-impacting performances for India A against New Zealand A and Bangladesh A, respectively.
Well, that has been the story with the BCCI and the selection committee, some not so data-backed or not so long-term decisions which eventually impact nothing else but Indian cricket and the fans.