I felt no pressure to replace Kuldeep, household grind helped me to perform: Jaydev Unadkat

Jaydev Unadkat got his long-awaited chance with the red ball and he kept his “promise” with a spirited effort in his first test for India after 12 years.

His love for the longer version of the game became more apparent than ever in January when he wrote a tweet that went viral.

“Dear red ball, please give me another chance.. I will make you proud, promise!” the pacemaker for the left arm had posted.

“Everyone thought I meant a national comeback. I just missed red ball cricket in general because Ranji Trophy was postponed for the second time (due to COVID), ”Unadkat told PTI in an interview after arriving from Bangladesh.

The 31-year-old, who had played his first and only test way back in 2010 with the great Sachin Tendulkar and current head coach Rahul Dravid as his celebrated teammates, played in remarkable circumstances in his second appearance last week.

With Unadkat not on selectors radar despite a record performance in the 2020 Ranji Trophy, a national recall for Unadkat came when least expected. He wasn’t even part of the India A squad that toured Bangladesh before the Test series, so he couldn’t be blamed for keeping his hopes at a minimum.

In the end, his patience and perseverance won out as he was flown to Bangladesh as a back-up tempo option, with Mohammad Shami failing to get fully fit for the series. The visa delays prevented him from reaching Chattogram until after the start of the first test, but against all odds Deputy Skipper KL Rahul gave Unadkat the big break he had been waiting for as he toiled on the domestic circuit for years.

The opportunity came at the expense of spinner Kuldeep Yadav, whose exclusion after an eight-wicket haul in the series opener sparked selection controversy. The scoreboard would show Unadkat taking three wickets in his comeback test, but his impact was bigger in the game.

With years of first-class experience since his testing debut in South Africa, Unadkat enjoyed the pressure. Making the most of flat tracks in Rajkot is something Unadkat has been doing for years and the Porbandar-born cricketer found himself in a similar area in Mirpur. It didn’t take long for him to make his presence felt as he removed the centurion Zakir Hasan from the previous game with a ball that jumped from good length.

That was his first wicket in Tests and Unadkat says that moment will remain the most special of his career.

“I tried to extract the bounce length and I felt I could. The feeling (when it happened) will remain one of the most special memories of my cricket career. Getting a test wicket is something I’ve visualized 1,000 times,” Unadkat said.

Did he feel the pressure to replace Kuldeep? “Absolutely not. If you don’t expect things and they happen, I’ll take it for granted. I just wanted to contribute. If you don’t take a wicket, create pressure from the other side. That was the thinking.

“House cricket has helped me a lot in that way. You always have a part to play as a bowler, even if you don’t get the wickets. You can create pressure and question the batter and other bowlers can respond to that.” What worked for Unadkat was his ability to bowl long spells on flat decks. 12 years after his debut, he was also a much wiser man who had led Saurashtra to unprecedented success.

“I got my chance because the management thought I was suitable for the field. As you mentioned the conditions were similar (to Rajkot), not much pace off the wicket and you’ll have to get everything you can out of hitting hard the length.

“I knew that if I hold on to my strengths, something will come my way and that’s how I got that extra bounce.” There were times when Unadkat felt dejected about not being selected for India despite his resounding success in the Ranji Trophy, but he was also busy building a championship team at national level.

“I always believed I would get another chance. I didn’t know how to be honest because the Indian pacers have been doing well for the past four years. I got inspired watching them to be honest.

“Leading Saurashtra has helped me focus on my game and not let anything else distract me. It has helped me look into the future. As Saurashtra captain, I not only look after my own performance, but also those of others and the goals of the team, that kept me going,” he said.

The comeback has made him more humble as it was the only thing he was working towards.

“It was very emotional for my family, my wife who was not there in 2010 when I made my debut. He believed in me more than I did. And when I heard I was playing, I felt the same goosebumps I felt 12 years ago,” he fondly recalled.

Unadkat could be the next left arm pacesetter that India has been looking for for years, but he is not thinking about that. When Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami are back, it will be much more difficult to find a place in the XI.

“I was quite young when I made my debut. All these years (at Ranji level) I never felt like a veteran. I am still 31 and at my peak. These four to five years would be the pinnacle of my career and I want to continue as much as possible.

Can he see himself retaining his place for the Border Gavaskar Trophy from next month? “I don’t want to expect things because that really helped me. I’m looking forward to Ranji’s next round (against Delhi), and that’s all I’m thinking about. If it has to happen, it will happen.

“I hope India dominates Australia. It’s going to be a great series,” he said.

Was special to play alongside Pujara

Unadkat’s return also meant he could finally play alongside his friend and Saurashtra teammate Cheteshwar Pujara.

When Unadkat wore jersey number 267 after a late landing in Bangladesh, it was no surprise that Pujara got a little emotional.

“I didn’t play in the first game but I wore the shirt for the first time he said ‘you look good’. It came straight from the heart and I could see how happy he was for me.

“It was special to play with him. He said I had to keep pushing myself all these years to get that chance. He’s been part of the team for over 10 years now, I look up to him in a way that I also wants to be part of the team as he has been.

“With all the ups and downs he’s been through in his career and still playing 98 Tests, this has been hugely motivating for me,” added Unadkat.

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