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Inspirational Unadkat savours captaincy masterstroke and unforgettable wicket

From using a No. 11 to stop a collapse to bowling a match-winning spell, how Unadkat steered Saurashtra into the Ranji Trophy final

Jaydev Unadkat sends one down, Himachal Pradesh v Saurashtra, Ranji Trophy 2019-20, 1st day, Dharamsala, December 9, 2019

Jaydev Unadkat sends one down  •  Shailesh Bhatnagar

Jaydev Unadkat is rushing to the dressing room.
After taking a 52-run lead against Gujarat in the semi-final of the Ranji Trophy, Saurashtra are in the middle of a collapse. Chintan Gaja, who had smashed a career-best 61 moments ago, is now doing it with the ball. He has dismissed Saurashtra's top three with just four runs on the board, Avi Barot being the latest victim and the reason behind Unadkat's dash from the players' gallery to the dressing room.
Moments later, to everyone's surprise, Chetan Sakariya walks out in the middle. Sakariya is no mug with the bat but in this Saurashtra side he bats at No. 11. Here he will be batting ahead of their regular No. 5, and centurion of the first innings, Sheldon Jackson.
The logic behind the move is Sakariya being a left-hand batsman will be better equipped to handle Gaja, who was predominantly taking the ball away from the right-handers.
Even though Saurashtra are reduced to 15 for 5 soon after, Sakariya and Arpit Vasavada, another left-hander, bail the side out with a 90-run stand for the sixth wicket. Their partnership eventually comes to an end when Sakariya is run out for 45.
The move to promote Sakariya up the batting order has worked. And that's one decision Unadkat is not going to forget any soon.
"One thing that I am really, really proud of in this game, and going to remember forever in my captaincy career, is my decision to send Chetan Sakariya in," Unadkat tells after the game. "He is our No. 11 batsman but after the third wicket fell, I just rushed inside and told him you have to go in next. In fact, I helped him pad up, got him ready in just two minutes and sent him in. I think that's one decision that I am gonna be proud of for the rest of my career. That was the turning point of the game. The way Chetan played, it gave belief to the team that we can come back from that situation."


Jaydev Unadkat is feeling the heat.
Parthiv Patel and Chirag Gandhi have added 158 for the sixth wicket and are threatening to run away with the game. Earlier, Unadkat's three wickets had left Gujarat reeling at 18 for 3 in a chase of 327. It became 63 for 5 shortly afterwards when Prerak Mankad and Chirag Jani chipped in with a wicket apiece.
"I knew that those 61-62 wickets I have taken won't matter if I don't take this one wicket for the team"
Unadkat on the importance of dismissing Parthiv Patel
But now, Gujarat have moved to 204 for 5 at tea, needing 121 more for a ticket to the final, and the second new ball is another 16 overs away. Last season, Saurashtra had lost to Vidarbha in the final but this time, it's looking like their journey will stop at the semis.
"We had discussed in the morning that they have a long batting line up and if there is a partnership or two, we won't be bogged down," Unadkat says. "But when you are on the field and such a partnership takes place, there are some nerves."
Cheteshwar Pujara has been Saurashtra's 12th man in New Zealand, liaisoning with Unadkat about the pitch, strategy and team composition over the course of the tournament.
"I have been in touch with him throughout this game as well," Unadkat says. "We talked before he boarded the flight back from New Zealand yesterday. He said to me if there is something, you can leave a message and I would be talking from the flight, via the in-flight Wi-Fi if it's urgent."
However, an SOS doesn't go out despite Saurashtra being on the back foot.


Jaydev Unadkat is pumped up.
He has changed the complexion of the game in just two balls. The 66-over-old ball has given up against Unadkat's will as he gets rid of Parthiv. The ball pitches just outside off and moves away from Parthiv to take the outside edge. Next ball he takes a low return catch to send Axar Patel back.
"I think I started putting something more into the ball in the last session. I knew that those 61-62 wickets I have taken won't matter if I don't take this one wicket for the team. That's what I said before the ball I got Parthiv out that I can give away those 62 [61] wickets for this one wicket. I think that gave me some energy from somewhere and it's because of that the ball got some zip from the pitch. I think I am going to remember Parthiv's wicket throughout my career.
"The new ball was far away and I think we would have lost the game by the time the new ball would have come into play. The only thing that we were talking about was we needed one breakthrough. We knew how this game was turning and twisting every single session, so I just wanted tea to happen because they were playing really good and I wanted that break somehow. I knew if I had to do it for the team, it would have to be after tea when they are not sure how to go about in the last session."
After Parthiv's wicket, Gujarat's innings doesn't last long.


Jaydev Unadkat is ecstatic.
He ends up with a seven-wicket haul including the final wicket, and the victory that was drifting away from Saurashtra with every passing moment is now theirs to savour.
"I am so happy that I cannot express it," he says after orchestrating the win. "Not only because we won the match but more so of the manner in which we did so. The way the game was oscillating from one side to the other, it cannot get better than this. I am really happy that whenever we were in trouble, someone put his hand up. The way we came back from being 15 for 5 yesterday was absolutely unbelievable. I think Arpit played the knock of his career."
But what about his own performance? He is having a dream season with the ball. Those 65 wickets would mean at least something.
"It means a lot, not in the sense that I have this many wickets, but it just means a lot because I have been able to win at least three-four games for my team on my own in this season. That's what I have been aiming for. If I have to be right up there in the bowling group we have in our country at the moment, I will have to do something which no one else has been able to do. I think I am right up there now in terms of confidence, in terms of skills.
"Physically, it has been challenging for sure. It has been a long, long season and I was feeling a lot of that thing today. I was drained but as it's just one game more and I am gonna push myself till the end. About this being a dream season, I think I would like to answer that question probably after the final. If I am able to win that game for my team, after that I would say that it was a dream season but not before that."

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo