As he noted on Twitter this week, Jaydev Unadkat made his first-class debut 12 years ago. Last Tuesday, Unadkat took the field to play his 100th first-class match, in the Ranji Trophy game between Saurashtra and Andhra.
In December, Unadkat, who has consistently been the best fast bowler on the Indian domestic circuit for several years now, was included as a last-minute addition for the Test series in Bangladesh, where he played in the second match, a dozen years after his last Test. That Mirpur Test, Unadkat says, was like a “second Test debut”. Last week the selectors retained Unadkat in the India squad for the first two Tests of the series against Australia in February after Jasprit Bumrah’s return was delayed by injury.
Twelve years and two days is how long you have had to wait to get your first Test wicket. Was it worth it?
It’s not even a question about whether it’s worth it or not because when I first played that game [debut Test, in Centurion in 2010] and when I played again [Mirpur] those are two different eras: what I was back then to what I am now are two different Jaydevs, I would say.
I am that much more eager to be a part of the set-up now. Obviously [in 2010] that was a time when I was at the initial stage of my career. I was young, I was raw. The skills are always there, but the fact that I know a lot more about cricket in general now, that’s why there was that much more eagerness to again be a part of the set-up. And to prove that it wasn’t just a one-off. The journey has started again.
Did you ask the selector anything when they called to tell you you were picked for Bangladesh?
Chetan [Sharma] bhai called me and said, you don’t have to go to the Ranji Trophy game, you will have to join Test squad. It was a simple call where he just told me that I’d have to pack my bags for Dhaka.
I was just thankful in that moment. I went into that trance mode, where everything becomes blurry and you just sort of enjoy the moment. We were in a car and I was with Rinny [wife], my sister and my brother-in-law, so there were screams and joy and ecstasy, which made it even more special.
When you were picked for the Mirpur Test, did it feel like a second Test debut?
Yes, it did. As soon as I got into the dressing room I felt I belonged there, more than I felt back then in 2010. Obviously the dressing room was full of legends back then. Not that it’s not now. But, yeah, the guys who I used to cheer, who I used to watch on TV when I was young – Sachin [Tendulkar] bhai, [Virender] Sehwag, Lacchi [VVS Laxman] bhai, Rahul [Dravid] bhai – all of them were very much part of the team. I was a little starstruck. But now, like I said, there was this sense of belongingness and I straightaway felt that I could contribute towards achieving something special for this team.
What did Dravid say?
Everyone congratulated me, saying that it was well deserved. And even though it was repetitive I still felt a little sense of pride every time I heard that, that you deserve this call-up. On the day when the Test was starting, Rahul bhai told me in the morning: “JD, you are a part of the XI. And this is probably one of the most well deserved call-ups that you have got. Be very, very proud of it and enjoy your time out there in the middle.” It was just a 30-second talk.
That conversation was special to me because of a lot of things that happened in between those [first two] Tests: the mindset that I had in between a lot of times, where I kind of started doubting myself, but then at the back of my mind [the belief] was pretty strong that there will be a time when I make a comeback and it will be special when it happens. And I was just in the moment, soaking in all of it.
“Getting a Test wicket is something I visualised 1000 times.” You said that in a chat with PTI. Talk to us about the wicket you most enjoyed of the three you took against Bangladesh.
I would say the second one, where I got Mushfiqur [Rahim]. I started over the wicket and then came around the wicket like I have been doing a lot recently [in domestic cricket], using the angles and setting up the batsman. In a way, it becomes difficult for the batsman to judge which way the ball is going to go. And being a left-hander, I do have that advantage of using the wide angle off the crease. And that particular ball where I got him out was when I came a little wider off the crease. I tried to get it away, it moved just that bit that I wanted it to, and he edged it.
When I say I was different from what I was back in 2010, that [wicket] was the difference: I know my angles well, I know my skills well. The way I went about setting up the batsman was a replica of what I have been doing in domestic cricket through this period where I’ve been successful. So that was special to me that I could do it at the highest level as well. That gave me a sense of belief that the skills I have now are worthy to trouble the batsman at the higher level as well.
Did you make a New Year’s resolution?
I didn’t actually have a lot of time and emotion to make a resolution. In December we won the Vijay Hazare [domestic 50-overs competition], which I will take a lot of pride in forever. And then came the India call-up. There was a Ranji game straight after I came back from Bangladesh.
I have made a point that whenever I play any game, be it for Saurashtra or for an IPL team, the level of commitment should be not less than 110%. I have been strict on myself on that. That’s why when I came back from the Test match, I was eager to go back and play for Saurashtra and make it a point that I am going to win it for my team. I have done that in the last three, four years. I have put my hand up whenever the team needed me. And this is a time when I actually have to do it more. And the fact that it was a turner, it was a pitch here in Rajkot where we played three spinners, the opposition team played three spinners and everyone was sure that the result was going to be defined by the spinners.
You became the first bowler in the Ranji Trophy to bag a hat-trick in the first over, in that game against Delhi, and you finished with career-best innings figures of 8 for 39. How special was that?
The fact that I’m holding that match ball in my hand at the moment says it was pretty special. I knew that if I had to make an impact on a turning pitch, it had to be with a new ball. The first ball of the game was an appeal for leg-before – the ball swung into the right-hander. I didn’t know it was the first ever first-over hat-trick until the end of the day’s play, when Rinny and my family told me that it’s a record.
The selectors have given you another opportunity by picking you for the first two Tests of the Australia series. How does that make you feel?
They have shown that trust in me now. I want to contribute towards the team’s success, not just be a part of the team and say, “I’m done, I have made the comeback and I’m happy.” The belief that I can contribute is that much stronger. The hunger to improve is that much stronger as well.
We had a couple of days’ break after coming back from Hyderabad [where Saurashtra played their fifth round of the Ranji Trophy] when all I was thinking was what is my next practice session going to be like, what am I going to improve on. I’m glad that I have got this opportunity again. Obviously Booms [Bumrah] not being fit is one of the reasons, but I will just take it in my stride and try and contribute as much as I can. Try and show off my skills, in which I do take a lot of pride.
You make the ball talk regardless of your pace, and the selectors have said that what stands out about you is your attitude. Has that been a strength?
I would say that attitude has played a bigger role than I thought. I have heard a lot of criticism about my bowling, my skills, but the fact that I kept it simple and straight, I kept myself in a zone where I was competing with no one but my own skills, says that. And attitude is that, right? When you want to keep growing as a cricketer, when you want to keep improving as an athlete, not just in terms of bowling but in terms of fitness, in terms of batting.
I was just watching a video on YouTube of when I made my debut in 2010. Looking at my batting back then, I was like, “Wow, I couldn’t hold a bat properly back then.” And now I can proudly say that I’m a handy lower-order batter, not just a tailender.
There have been times where I have been down and out. During those injuries, those long layoffs after the stress fractures, when I started doubting whether I’d be able to play 100 first-class games or not. In every athlete’s career there are stages where you start doubting yourself, but if you have the right attitude, that’s what makes the difference. That’s what made the difference for me throughout my career – that attitude to keep learning, keep getting better and just being honest to myself that, yes, I deserve my place, whether it is a place in the team for Saurashtra or whether it is a place at the higher level, in any of the IPL teams or the Indian team.