Jaydev Unadkat is happy with where he is at in his career right now, but continues to dream bigger. © AFP

Jaydev Unadkat is happy with where he is at in his career right now, but continues to dream bigger. © AFP

From sweating it out at his humble abode in Rajkot and daydreaming of returning to the Indian side, to raking in Rs 11.5 crore at the Indian Premier League auction and becoming a regular feature in India’s Twenty20 International set-up, Jaydev Unadkat’s story could be of some interest to biopic makers in time to come.

Despite the fact that the Saurashtra man made his debut for India when only 19 in 2010, Unadkat’s international career is a young one. Since a forgetful Test debut against South Africa, where he went wicketless in 26 overs and gave away 101 runs, Unadkat has only played seven One-Day Internationals and ten T20Is.

Eight of those 18 matches – the one Test and seven ODIs – happened between 2010 and 2013, and thereafter Unadkat has been worked his into the role of a T20I specialist. His steady rise in the domestic circuit and eye-catching numbers in the IPL had primed him for the spot, but until 2017, there was little evidence of what Unadkat was truly capable of.

Besides the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy season where he picked up 40 wickets, Unadkat’s career-changing moment came with Rising Pune Supergiant in IPL 2017 where he bagged 24 wickets – second highest behind Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s 26 – and guided Steven Smith’s team to the final.

“It’s not ‘responsibility’ because of the money. It’s more about trust and the faith they’ve shown in me. My role for any team that I play for is that of someone who comes out to bowl in pressure situations.”

The Indian selectors couldn’t ignore the shrewd left-arm paceman any longer. They tried him out at home against Sri Lanka and he emerged the player of the series in December in the three-match faceoff. In January in South Africa, he was expensive, but they stuck with him in the tri-nation Nidahas Trophy and he picked up seven wickets in four games at 19.85. Before this though, the 26-year-old already had the golden ticket in his hands: Rajasthan Royals had bought him for the highest sum spent on an Indian player this year.

Wisden India caught up Unadkat to discuss his life since the auction, his aspirations, and more.

Have those feelings from the auction sunk in yet?
It has been a long time since the auctions, so it has sunk in, but it does still surprise me from time to time. I think the reason I was able to forget about it is because I haven’t had too much time to sit and think about it. I’ve played two series since then and I have been practicing a lot since.

Perhaps your performance in IPL 2017 had something to do with the price tag?
I think so. I picked up some 24 wickets in 12 games and I’d like to think that I had a part to play is us making it to the final. It was a great year for me because I was finally able to show what I had been working at the domestic level for so long. Whenever I have been given chances at any level, I have done well, but that was the first time I was given a sustained run and that helped.

“I am at the peak of my career at the moment. I am definitely ready for the challenge. They say that the best years for a fast bowler are between 25 and 30, I am there.”

Do you feel like there’s more pressure on you now because of the price tag?
Nope. It’s not ‘responsibility’ because of the money. It’s more about trust and the faith they’ve shown in me. My role for any team that I play for is that of someone who comes out to bowl in pressure situations. I am the strike bowler a lot of times and that comes with its share of pressure. That won’t change irrespective of how much you are bought for. You still have to do your job. That they trust me so much makes me give it more and that only makes me better.

Does pressure bring out the best in you?
I think that started last IPL, I was brought on during Power Plays and at the death. As a captain, they look for players who can deliver under such pressure. Because of my constant exposure to such situations, I have become much better at it. My focus is not at all on the situation. I consider the situation initially and then I shift my focus. I enter a zone on top of my bowling mark and I am absolutely convinced about what I want to bowl as I start running in. I only think about what I can do and how I can get someone out. In the last couple of series that I have played, I was a bit nervy honestly. That right now is something I am working towards getting rid of it. That calmness under pressure will only come with experience.

How was it to be working with Wasim Akram when you played for Kolkata Knight Riders?
That was a crucial point in my career. I was very young and I needed guidance on the most basic things. I had to understand myself and my bowling before I could execute my role. That’s where someone like Wasim Akram comes into the picture. He taught me so many important things regarding swing and the general dynamics of a ball when it’s released. Dada (Sourav Ganguly) also was great help at the time. They basically gave me all the confidence I needed. It was great to have such seniors around me.

“I’m the sort of bowler who will be brought in pressure situations irrespective of which format. I will be doing the role of someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Jasprit Bumrah.”

Did you think the stress fracture in 2014 would hinder your India ambitions?
Whenever a fast bowler has an injury, you start to worry about it. It’s not just a physical battle at the point, it’s more a mental one. I had to learn how to work around that. It was difficult but in a way, it was good because I could look at myself from a third person’s point of view and understand why I do certain things the way I do them. That time away was brilliant for me to find myself and my bowling.

Is that why you were able to put on a good show in the following Ranji Trophy season?
Absolutely. I think that was a big point in my life. It gave me a lot of confidence. I played the whole season and I was able to take my side to the knockouts. I picked up some 40 wickets. It was a great season and I think that’s what set things up for me to be where I am now.

The one Test?
I was very young, but it certainly helped me learn to focus on my fitness. I got a lot of self-belief after playing that Test match. But I am actually quite tired of speaking about that. It was a long time ago. Some people say I was too young and I wasn’t ready. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. The point is that it’s over now. I have a fresh chance and that’s all I can work with. I will say that I don’t think I was at my peak fitness at the time.

Are you ready for Test cricket now?
I think I am at the peak of my career at the moment. I am definitely ready for the challenge. They say that the best years for a fast bowler are between 25 and 30, I am there. But it all comes down to the selectors. I will focus on my art and what happens after that isn’t in my control.

Does your experience with the T20I side make you say that?
Not really. See, I’m the sort of bowler who will be brought in pressure situations irrespective of which format. I will be doing the role of someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Jasprit Bumrah, they both execute those roles so well and so consistently. That’s my role. Even when I make it to the ODI team, my role won’t change much. So in that sense, it’s great because I know exactly what I need to be working on. In Tests, that won’t be the case. There’s a need to be far more adaptive but everything I’m working on gears me for exactly that.

“Pace bowling is not only about speed anymore. It’s about trying to have the batsman guessing every time. If you bowl at 145-150 kmph at the same spot over and over again, you’ll get whacked each time.”

How is to be working with such a young T20I side?
It’s a very dynamic set-up. We really bring intensity to the table every night, and what’s impressive is that we keep that intensity going even when the game is not entirely in our hands or even when it is. It also helps that the skipper (Virat Kohli) himself is like that. What that (intensity) does is that it helps us as a fielding unit, and when the fielding is good and when you back your bowlers, everything automatically falls in place.

Tell us more about your need for variations?
Pace bowling is not only about speed anymore. It’s about trying to have the batsman guessing every time. If you bowl at 145-150 kmph at the same spot over and over again, you’ll get whacked each time. You need to read the situation and understand what a batsman is capable of or what he could be thinking at the moment to then try and outsmart them. It’s surely not only about pace. You could add pace to your bowling and still use the variations. I think that is the most effective.

Are you working on adding pace though?
I have always worked hard on my fitness. I have followed that throughout my career. I can still improve my fitness and that could help me add a few yards of pace, but that’s not my focus. I’m happy with my pace. My focus is on accuracy, swing and timely variations. Those are my strengths. I will never focus on sheer pace or work purely on adding pace. I will get stronger and with that my pace will improve.

What is your long-term goal?
I would love to represent India in any format for the next ten years. I would be happy if I could achieve that. Very few people can and have in the past so I know it’s tough, but it would be ideal.

What about with Rajasthan Royals?
We have a good unit with good domestic and foreign players. My hope is to execute my role to perfection and that others do the same too. Should we manage that, we have a very good shot at the title. It’s tough not having someone like Steven Smith around, but we have to look past these things. Ajinkya Rahane is a great human being and a very good captain and I know that the team responds to him well. I believe we can achieve great things this year, and I feel another good run for me this season.