Over the past decade, the Saurashtra cricket team has transformed into a formidable force in domestic cricket. After four Ranji finals (2012-13, 2015-16, 2018-19 and 2019-20), they also won the 50 overs Vijay Hazare Trophy this week.
Captain Jaydev Unadkat is a proud man who led his team to their first Ranji title in 2019-20 and the Hazare title two days ago. Leadership clearly gets the best out of the left arm pace bowler. The 31-year-old was the top wicket taker as they won the Ranji Trophy title in 2019-20 with 67 wickets and he again led from the front in the Vijay Hazare Trophy as the top wicket taker with 19 wickets in 10 matches.
Excerpts from an interview with the captain of Saurashtra:
What does this victory mean for Saurashtra cricket?
Winning the Ranji Trophy for the first time was special but also priceless. We’ve been purposefully working for it for the past three to four years. Everyone recognized us as a great red-ball team, but to do that in the white-ball circuit, not just Vijay Hazare, but also the T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, to qualify us for the knock-offs since the last three seasons outs in both formats, is quite special.
It is not easy to win in India because of the sheer number of teams and the level of competition. How are you going through that grind of the whole tournament?
It’s really heavy. The Indian domestic season demands a lot from each individual as you have to travel to different places, adapt to different conditions and different wickets, you are not always in your comfort zone. There was one thing I wanted to build on — we’re going to have to face those challenges. These things (motivation) come with the mindset that if the other 15 guys on the team are putting in that effort why not me, so that attitude helps. When everyone thinks of everyone, it makes riding that journey so much easier. We also have our fun game sessions, drink tea together, chat about the game and the upcoming game. When everyone stays together, the trip becomes fun; it’s more about enjoying the process than feeling the pressure to do something outside of your comfort zone.
Does leadership come naturally to you?
It will come naturally. But it’s a whole new aspect of tackling things when you’re leading a team, guys with a different mindset, different characters to keep them all together and build where everyone works towards the collective goal. We succeeded. I do try to set the tone and lead by example and maintain an atmosphere where we put the team first. Yes, everyone wants to play at the highest level, but I myself have made a point that I will think of nothing but the game I am playing and give everything for Saurashtra. That love for the team is something I’ve cultivated and led others to have the same love for the team. Now everyone feels the same way about the team.
For that I knew I had to lead from the front. I feel like the work I’ve personally done has helped me set that example and everyone has followed suit brilliantly. I’m the highest wicket taker but the way everyone stepped in when needed was excellent.
You’ve played this game long enough, do you feel there are good rewards for a good season at home, compared to 10 years ago?
I think so, with the IPL the dynamics have definitely changed. Earlier it was like people were doing well for their state side then it was Duleep, Deodhar and India A. You do get your dues when it comes to getting a chance in the IPL but I will still say you got it there you will have to do well (IPL) to get your chances at the higher level (international cricket).
One thing I’ve noticed is people are watching IPL more and seeing if you’re doing well there. But the domestic season in India has become so much more challenging because of the exposure people now have thanks to the IPL. Not just those who play the IPL, but now you have 10 net bowlers traveling with every team, they see that culture, have good coaches around. They will no doubt bring that attitude into their game when they play for their state. It is visible how standards have improved in our domestic cricket. Each team has become a force in itself, as Assam, Maharashtra played this year, as Himachal won last year, Madhya Pradesh won the Ranji Trophy. It’s not about the main six or seven teams now, it’s about a group of 18-20 state teams competing for the title and they’re all capable of beating any team on their day so it’s all the more challenging become.
You are a giant in domestic cricket, what has stopped you from achieving the same success at the international level?
I’ve been honest with myself. When I went to Zimbabwe I told myself I wasn’t good enough at the time. After that, I did my role well when I got the chance. I’ve kept the mindset that I’m good enough at that level and if I get the chance I’ll definitely prove it. I don’t want to dwell on the fact that I only played one test; one test does not define a career. I feel like I’ve been good enough to play at that level for the past five years. I’ll be sure to get my dues anytime.
For a player of your stature, who has also had big IPL contracts, what keeps you going at a national level…
One thing is for sure, I made a point that until the time I play – IPL, Saurashtra or the national team – I will make sure to give it my one hundred percent. For me as a player it will always be a matter of I take care of others around me, I do well myself. I really care about the team and I visualize things we can achieve together. I think that kept me going. In this tournament there was not a single moment where I thought anything other than that goal of winning the championship.