Unadkat: 'I see Saurashtra being a formidable force across formats for a long period of time'

Saurashtra captain elaborates on what has gone into the makings of his team's white-ball revolution

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Jaydev Unadkat leaps to get into his delivery stride  •  MPCA

Jaydev Unadkat leaps to get into his delivery stride  •  MPCA

"We've earned our right to be in the final," a chuffed Jaydev Unadkat says after a rigorous gym session that has kept him busy all afternoon in Ahmedabad. A day out from Saurashtra's second Vijay Hazare final, Unadkat still has one final team meeting over chai. He wants to simply remind his players that beating Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, two white-ball giants in domestic cricket, is a good enough endorsement of their credentials as "one of the best white-ball teams in India" currently. Looking ahead to the final, Unadkat, who is the joint-highest wicket-taker this season with 18 scalps, elaborated on what has gone into the makings of Saurashtra's white-ball revolution.
There was a time when making the knockouts seemed big. Now, Saurashtra are consistently making the finals. What has changed?
I think it's got to do a lot with the overall culture we've been able to develop. In 2018-19, we decided it was important to rework our white-ball template. We'd been pretty successful for nearly a decade in Ranji Trophy [Saurashtra made three finals], but we weren't up to the mark in the shorter formats. With the bat, we lacked that fearlessness. We lacked a bit of X-factor in the bowling. On the field, we weren't the fittest and you could see it. We didn't have a full-time fitness trainer until the start of this year.
So we identified issues we wanted to work on, and the changes we wanted to incorporate for a while is bearing results now, from last year especially. The good thing about our team is if we decide something, the guys are ready to pounce on ideas and go with the flow. We're just a close group of 13-14 individuals who keep playing continuously. Our depth isn't massive, so continuity has helped. This [season] is in many ways has been a reflection of the brand of cricket we've wanted to play.
You spoke of not having the X factor. How have you developed this?
We weren't a side that got a lot of early breakthroughs, but over the last two seasons or so we've been able to. Having Chetan Sakariya has helped me as well, we've been able to create pressure from both ends. Dharmendra [Jadeja], Prerak [Mankad] and Chirag [Jani] have become better white-ball bowlers in terms of taking wickets in the middle overs. The roles have become clearer.
With the bat, we had to be fearless. Our batters were restricting themselves from going all out and playing shots, which at the moment is needed in white-ball cricket. You have to take chances in the powerplay; even in the middle overs with five fielders in, you have to take your chances. We didn't have the mindset to be free, and when batters didn't succeed with the shots in trying to be adventurous, we didn't blame them because once you do that, it starts playing on our mind. We controlled that and gave them the room they needed to play shots. That has worked and has become our X-factor now.
"I love playing with this bunch and when you're looking for the team's success over individual milestones, that becomes a motivation in itself"
Jaydev Unadkat
A lot of teams struggle to have one seam-bowling allrounder. You have two in Prerak Mankad and Chirag Jani, maybe three if you include yourself.
If you see, the way they've been able to keep up the pressure after Chetan and I finish has helped. In the semi-final also, if it wasn't for them, Karnataka may have had a window where they could've broken the shackles. It didn't happen. With the bat too, Prerak comes in at [No.] 5-6, Chirag at 6-7 and they get important runs. With me at 8, they have the freedom and flexibility. The three of us have been able to give the top-order batters the cushion to play freely. They know if they aren't there for the last 10 overs, we've still got capable batters who can hit the long ball in the death overs. That's given some security in the batting line-up. It's the allrounders who've been providing the balance in this team.
You speak of cushion and being flexible. You implemented it by having Sheldon Jackson open. Was that tactical?
Yes, absolutely. Once Cheteshwar [Pujara] went to prepare for the Bangladesh Tests, we thought we needed someone experienced in the top three. With games starting at 9[am] and the ball moving around, you need someone who has that experience. I thought having three young guys at the top would've left us vulnerable. We wanted to ensure they can play their game and have the experienced players absorb any pressure there may be. Sheldon had done the job earlier as well, so there were no second thoughts.
Tell us about the youngsters coming through. Is the talent pool growing?
The Saurashtra Premier League has been a massive boost. It has helped players play competitive games with the state players and also helped develop game sense. It's made players less nervous. It has helped prepare them. Someone like Jay Gohil, who just made his List A debut in the quarter-finals. He was fearless, applied himself properly, [and] wasn't rushed, exuded composure. He looked anything but nervous. Someone like Tarang Gohel, who made his T20 debut for us this year - he also looked fearless. There are a couple of others in the Under-19s and Under-23s who are in my sights, and they too will get their chances soon. We've tried to ensure the culture we've built at the top is able to trickle down to the age-group levels as well. I see us being a formidable force across formats for a long period of time. That's always been the goal.
Was there a game where you felt the team really turned a corner during this campaign?
In the game against Gujarat in Delhi, we were three down in the first six overs. From there, the way we were able to build an innings on a surface that was doing quite a lot showed our character. That gave us a lot of confidence. It's not about conditions or about us struggling if the top order doesn't fire. We have guys who can stand up for the team and deliver at different times. Essentially, we've tried to develop a mindset where we aren't reliant on toss and luck.
Let us talk about you. Season after season, you pick wickets but get snubbed when it comes to India selection, or maybe even India A selection. How have you channeled that hurt into this relentless pursuit of excellence with Saurashtra?
The love for Saurashtra keeps me going. Since being captain, I've developed this mindset of attachment with the team, not that it wasn't there earlier. I love playing with this bunch and when you're looking for the team's success over individual milestones, that becomes a motivation in itself. Yes, I do look to give my fullest because I know that if I don't lead from the front, it won't set the tone. I do look at my individual performances, but from a way that it takes the team through, not in a way where I think if it will help me get selected for India or India A. At the end of the day, that's the space you want be in and I'm happily trying to help the team win as many games as possible. If you love the way you play the game, all other things will fall in place. I love this space and the mindset I'm currently in and don't want to change that for anything. But the hunger and fire to play and perform for the country is still burning bright.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo