South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion December 16, 2010

Unadkat in the swing of things

It's yet to be seen how the 19-year old will perform on the biggest stage in South Africa, whether he has the necessary skills and the mental fortitude to excel, but his coaches and parents believe he has what it takes

Rambhai Odedera, Jaidev Unadkat's coach, chuckles at one memory. "Jaidev's great worry about becoming a cricketer was whether he'd have to start eating non-vegetarian food". It's an endearing and revealing anecdote about the boy from Porbandar, a coastal town in Gujarat more famous for producing the Mahatma. "He said, 'All fast bowlers, they say, have non-veg. Sir, I don't want to eat meat. What will I do?'" Odedera assured the boy that he could stick to his vegetarianism but Unadkat had another doubt. He was doing well at school and feared that cricket might derail his future. Deepak, his college-principal father, shared those concerns. Once again Odedera eased their minds, suggesting that there was a great future in cricket and it wouldn't affect his studies.

Unadkat's cricket journey had started when, aged ten, he would accompany his father to weekend games at a ground near the shore. His natural talent excited his father - who enrolled him in the Duleep school of cricket, an institution inaugurated by Duleepsinhji two months before India's Independence - and excited Odedera too. "He was a natural talent. His run-up and delivery stride was always smooth. Over the years, we have worked on the all-round development of his game. He now gets appreciable bounce, can bowl from round the stumps, and can swing the ball both ways."

It's an assessment shared by Praveen Amre, Unadkat's India A coach on a successful 2010 tour of England. "That's how he got those 13 wickets on his first-class debut against West Indies A on that tour. He is a really good bowler." That performance, and his earlier work in the Under-19 world Cup which got him an IPL berth, caught the eye of the national selectors who fast-tracked him into the national team.

It has been reported that Unadkat's stint with Wasim Akram in the IPL has honed his ability to reverse the ball. What's certain is that the IPL made his father more confident of a brighter future. It wasn't the cricket but how he handled the money and the fame. "There was the concern. Porbandar is a small place and he is a nice kid. When the IPL happened he showed how mature he was. His behaviour didn't change and he showed us he could handle himself. His mother keeps advising him on this and that; I just have full confidence in him."

"When he won the Man-of-the-Match award, he got 100 pounds. He took his team out to dinner. Small thing, but it shows his character."
Praveen Amre on Unadkat

The IPL's glam factor had worried Odedera too. "I remember the whole of Porbandar seemed to think it was a big thing. I told Jaidev not to let it get into the head. The IPL is nothing. Your aim should be to play and do well for India. You are the second cricketer [from Porbandar] to play for India. In 1932, [maharaja] Natwarsinghji of Porbander, who eventually started the Duleep school of cricket, was the original captain of Indian team that toured England on its first Test tour. In the end, he didn't play; CK Nayudu did. You have this great chance now to play for India."

Odedera recalls Unadkat getting very emotional and promising him that he would not only play for India but do well. Amre cites an incident from the England tour that highlighted his attitude and team spirit. "When he won the Man-of-the-Match award, he got 100 pounds. He took his team out to dinner. Small thing, but it shows his character."

It's yet to be seen how the 19-year old will perform on the biggest stage in South Africa, whether he has the necessary skills and the mental fortitude to excel. His coaches and parents are confident and hopeful. "He is a special talent and the selectors have granted him a great opportunity," Amre says. "It's up to him now, what he does with it."

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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