“We were not the best team in white-ball cricket– that had to be improved on. In the last couple of years, we qualified for the knock-out in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for the first time. We were in the semifinals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy as well, where we just missed out on a whisker against Tamil Nadu.” - Jaydev Unadkat told Cricket.com in September.
One of the honest toilers with the ball, Unadkat’s contribution in making Saurashtra a formidable outfit in Indian domestic cricket is beyond comprehension. The above statement, made right before the 2022 domestic season kick-started in September, was filled with a hope of seeing his state unit making solid inroads in the limited-overs cricket - something that eluded them since their victorious 2008 Vijay Hazare Trophy campaign.
And if ever a quote has ever been destined for aging the right way, well, Unadkat can take it all in and revel in the magic that his side endured over the course of the last 20 days to fulfill a collective dream as Saurashtra secured their second Vijay Hazare Trophy title after 14 long years.
“Whenever we come together, whenever we have a camp or whatever, the right thing is that everyone is motivated enough to win whatever games we are playing. It doesn’t matter if we are playing a Ranji Trophy game or a Syed Mushtaq Ali game or a practice game. That culture has evolved. And I am really proud of what we have achieved as a bunch in the last four or five years,” Unadkat had made a point and today, everything just makes sense, in the right way of course.
What could possibly be the takeaway? The ageless warrior in Sheldon Jackson hitting a majestic century in the final or an emotional Jaydev Unadkat being on knees after seeing the journey coming to fruition - a dream of making Saurashtra an all-format behemoth in domestic cricket.
With the ball, Unadkat had 16 wickets to his name, the highest for his side, and if that is not the epitome of the “do-first-talk-later” leadership approach that he has had all his life, then, I’m not sure what is.
“The culture that I was talking about is now, I think, imbibed well in this bunch of players and also I can see that in our under-19 and under-23 boys as well. They, obviously, will follow in the footsteps of what we do when they see us training in the gym and making a good schedule for ourselves, being regular at practice, having that discipline of the game. So, I think the group has been doing really well,” Unadkat added in the same interview.
It is the change in attitude that has helped them the most. In unfortunate circumstances, after Avi Barot passed away, they had to rebuild the side again. Barot was never a nominal figure in the side. A great company to the likes of Unadkat, Jackson, Pujara, and Jadeja - he was at the fulcrum of manifesting an idea that Saurashtra could challenge the best of the sides in domestic cricket.
In fact, they could be the best of all.
Then there are the likes of Unadkat and Jackson who could have been forgiven for not being the same player they once were after facing numerous disappointments of not being selected in the national side but instead, they turned up every single day to become the best version they could be. If it wasn’t for the duo taking everything on their chin and showing up, we perhaps would have been devoid of a cricketing story for ages - a unit that was battle-hardened to make the scene their oyster.
Think of someone like Chirag Jani. Picking a hat-trick in the final is one thing, but maintaining a level of consistency to produce one spectacular performance after another has a different charm altogether. It echoed in “if any one guy deserves to play at the higher level, it is Chirag Jani” statement of Unadkat in the presentation ceremony and that never seemed like an out of the place, over-sentimental statement.
The story is not over for them. If the Ranji championship run in 2020 had a charm of authenticity attached to it, then they will have a great chance to recreate the magic as the Ranji Trophy returns to its full avatar in less than two weeks of time. Saurashtra will be altered - for a spot has just opened up in the ducket and claiming it back would be their next target.