Unadkat, Rajasthan & Big Bucks – IPL’s Baffling Love Triangle
Despite poor performances, Rajasthan Royals continue to buy Jaydev Unadkat at the auction, after releasing him.
She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not.
No, this is not a scene from a 90s Bollywood movie, but the story of Jaydev Unadkat for the last two Indian Premier League (IPL) seasons.
If you don't already know by now, Unadkat has been bagged yet again by, who else but, Rajasthan Royals – for an unanticipated Rs 3 crore.
Unadkat's Breakout IPL Season
The background to this love tale lies in the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League, when Unadkat featured for the now-defunct Rising Pune Supergiant franchise.
He finished the season with 24 wickets from 12 matches at an average of 13.41 and a golden economy of 7.02, with best match figures of 5/30.
Suddenly, his stocks went through the roof. And that's when his love story with RR began. Unadkat was snaffled by Rajasthan Royals the next year for a whopping Rs 11.5 crore.
As it is, the need for death bowlers is never ending in franchise cricket. And, it is not always ideal for the balance of the side to pick an overseas one, for it affects the flexibility of the side – given the four-overseas-players cap.
The fact that Unadkat is a domestic bowler, he comes at a premium and hence the big bucks.
Where Did He Go Wrong?
The left-arm pacer disappointed in the 2018 season of the IPL with just 11 wickets from 15 games, going at an economy of 9.65 and an average of 44.18. In relation to the price he was picked at, possibly anything would have been a disappointment, but that both his economy and bowling average shot up substantially did not go down well with the management at Rajasthan Royals. The Saurashtra bowler was not retained.
However, next year as well, the team re-secured Unadkat for a good Rs 8.5 crore, three crores less than the last year but still a sizeable amount. Interestingly, the pacer had emerged as the costliest Indian pick in back to back years.
Unfortunately for him, the 2019 season differed little from the previous one. If at all, the economy only swelled further. Unadkat picked up 10 wickets from 11 IPL matches in 2019 at an average of almost 40 and a criminal economy of 10.66.
In 2017, it was the use of variations by Unadkat that saw him have a fantastic IPL. The pacer made brilliant use of off-cutters that pitched outside the off stump. This made it very difficult for the batsmen to get him away. He used his conventional swing in the powerplay to pick wickets upfront and was very wise with the use of his variations later.
His newfound skills also helped him become the only bowler to bowl a hat-trick maiden in the 20th over of a T20, which came against Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL 2017.
In March 2018, when Unadkat was part of the Indian playing XI for a white-ball series against Sri Lanka, he had himself stressed on the significance of variations in the short format.
"Cutters suit my plan, if the wicket is suitable for that, I will do that. Cutters are only useful when the batsman doesn't expect. So if the wicket is spicing up a bit, if I see the wicket is gripping a bit, definitely then that's the way to go. That has been my strength in this format of the game in the past couple of years, I have always banked on that," the left-armer had noted then.
His strength, though, turned his weakness in the last two IPL seasons. The pacer has used the off-cutter even more than his stock delivery, so much so that the cutter has actually become his stock delivery. As a result, batsmen have begun to find him out and now set themselves up for his off-cutter. Hence, that sense of surprise has gone.
But Why Do Royals Bid for Unadkat Every Season?
That said, his selection has not been without logic. His knowledge of the Indian conditions, due to his domestic experience, gives him several credit points. Unadkat's familiarity of the RR set-up was another reason outlined by Zubin Bharucha, the Head of Cricket at RR.
"We are really pleased to have Jaydev back in our squad for the upcoming season. We could not retain him, and had planned to get him back, and I'm really happy to once again have him in the team... He knows the franchise inside-out, therefore we are really looking forward to have him help our team again," Bharucha said after pocketing the Saurashtra pacer.
It only helps that Unadkat's left-arm pace brings a variety to the bowling attack. His cutters may have gone for runs but they continue to be a useful option to have on slower pitches, especially with Rajasthan Royals playing half of their matches at their home ground at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
Out of the 47 T20s played at that ground, the average score in the first innings has been 158. Two reasons explain this: The slow pitch and big boundaries. Notwithstanding a couple of occasions, their home ground has been a fortress for Rajasthan Royals, and Unadkat's style of bowling suits the conditions perfectly.
This is one of the reasons why Kings XI Punjab were also interested in the left-arm pacer but gave up after Royals' eagerness to pick Unadkat.
Impressive Domestic Form
Moreover, Unadkat has performed fairly well in the recently-concluded domestic tournaments, the 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy and the 50-over Vijay Hazare trophy. He finished the SMA with 12 wickets from just seven innings and gave away runs at only 5.74. This included figures of 4/5 against Sikkim and 3/32 against Gujarat.
In Vijay Hazare as well, he picked up 15 wickets from eight innings at an average of 20.93 and a superb economy of 4.94.
Unadkat's last Ranji Trophy match against Himachal Pradesh, where he picked up at 9-wicket match haul, including a 6-fer in the second innings, has also provided the immediate spark for franchises (read Rajasthan Royals) to sway in his favour.
It remains to be seen if the third installment of this RR-Unadkat love story pans out like the last two or there is redemption, at last, for the protagonist.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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