It is a make or break time for left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat and middle-order batsman Ambati Rayudu. Both look forward to the upcoming tour of Zimbabwe as it gives them a chance to restore their reputations.
It is almost as if life has come full circle for both the cricketers as they both had earned their one-day caps when India toured Zimbabwe for a five-match ODI series under Suresh Raina’s captaincy.
Rayudu and Unadkat were the new faces in the squad. While Unadkat had played Test against South Africa at Centurion way back in 2010, the left-arm seamer capped a satisfactory series in Zimbabwe with eight wickets. Rayudu had an unbeaten 63 and a 33 to his name in four games.
While Rayudu’s performance earned him a regular spot in Team India afterwards, it was curtains for Unadkat due to the presence of senior bowlers in Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Three years later in 2016, the Baroda batsman who is out of the ODI team for almost a year, would be vying to get back. Ten days from now, not just Rayudu but Unadkat will be on the same flight to Zimbabwe once again, standing on the same point to prove themselves. The only difference being that in 2013, both were freshers, but now they will also have the weight of expectations on the comeback stage.
Rayudu has a healthy batting average of 45 in ODIs and yet he has been on the sideline. Having scored two centuries and five fifties in his 31-match career, he failed to live up to his reputation of a lively batsman who could play big shots all-round the wicket. Rayudu failed miserably in Australia and got out on a duck in Bangladesh. Later, he did score an unbeaten 124 against Zimbabwe at Harare in 2015. In T20’s against the Proteas, his twin ducks forced the selectors to shut the the door.
His worst came in Australia early in 2015 after he scored 23 in 56 balls after which he was dropped him from the squad. Since then, Rayudu has been trying to turn it around. In the Ranji trophy, he played just four matches and scored 170 runs. The current IPL should give him a lot of confidence though. In 13 games, Rayudu scored 334 runs and helped Mumbai Indians with match-winning knocks.
For Unadkat, it will be a full circle. He began his ODI journey in Zimbabwe and three years down the line, he will be attempting a shot at success. Even though his numbers in 2013 were decent, Unadkat never caught the attention of the selectors. But a fruitful domestic season this year for Saurashtra, in which he picked up 40 wickets and scored 343 runs, meant he was on the radar again.
“This will be an extremely important opportunity from me and I will be looking to prove a point especially after a superb domestic season,” Unadkat said. The seamer made his Test debut in 2010 but wasn’t able to impress as his young age and average pace became obstacles. “I have left the experience of that Test behind me. I was quite young at that time and wasn’t able to put up a show despite having a brilliant India A match with 13 wickets,” he said.
But now, Unadkat feels he has transformed. “I have tried to understand myself as a bowler and my game a lot better. Played a lot of domestic cricket and will be using the learning in Zimbabwe,” Unadkat said.
Unadkat said that he had realized that he had to counter his lack of speed. “I realized that it has to be a percentage of everything in my bowling. I am not an express bowler and therefore will be focusing on accuracy and control. Variety has been my strength and will try to develop a plan keeping all these aspects in mind,” he said.
Unadkat said that the presence of Wasim Akram as KKR’s bowling mentor was a huge boost before the Zimbabwe tour. “With him, bowler will learn one thing or the other. I have been under his mentorship for almost three years and he helps me improve my wrist positions, tricks to set up batsmen and tells us how to bowl in different situations in a match. He shares his experiences of how a bowler should bowl on slower tracks and faster ones,” he said.
While Unadkat has a good slower delivery himself, but he said he was emulating Mustafizur Rehman like slower in the nets. “I am just trying though not sure if I will be able to match up to his standards but the way he bowls is extremely effective and difficult,” Unadkat said.
Whatever said and done, the Zimbabwe tour will be a new beginning for both old campaigners. With Barinder Sran in the squad, it could be a little difficult for Unadkat to find a place in the squad, but for Rayudu this could be a make or break series. Once again, it will be interesting to see who among Rayudu and Unadkat wins the battle and retains the spot in Team India.