Not many can boast of what Jaidev Unadkat has achieved at such a young age.
The 19-year-old was called up to the Indian Test team for the Australia series even before he played a single game at the Ranji Trophy level. And before that he had already played in the Indian Premier League, the India 'A' team and the Emerging Nations Tournament, all where you usually qualify after a few seasons in domestic cricket.
Unadkat first caught everyone's attention during the Under-19 World Cup in January with his ability to move the ball and also bowl some sharp yorkers and bouncers.
He was then called up to the Kolkata Knight Riders squad, where, despite not a too good showing with the ball, he impressed former Pakistan legendary left-armer Wasim Akram.
The Saurashtra bowler then continued making giant strides with consistent performances for India 'A' on their tour to England, where he claimed seven for 71 on his first class debut, against the West Indies A. The pacer also underlined his potential with another remarkable showing in the Emerging Players tournament in Australia.
All that has taken the backseat for now as Unadkat embarks on another important journey in his career. The left-armer will play his first Ranji Trophy match, when Saurashtra take on Mumbai in their first game of the new season.
In a freewheeling interview with Senior Associate Editor Harish Kotian, the discusses what domestic cricket means to him and why he believes he is ready to play at the highest level.
You were called into the Indian Test squad even before you played a single Ranji Trophy match. The match against Mumbai will be your first Ranji Trophy match. Are you feeling the pressure?
Now the expectations are also more, so I want to focus more on the basics. I don't want to take any undue pressure and will try to enjoy my game. It is my first game and everybody is telling me that the domestic season is the first big step to get into the Indian team. So you will need to prove yourself in domestic cricket and show that you deserve to be in the Indian team with consistent performances. I will try my best to come up with good performances and prove to everyone that I can perform at this level.
You played for India Under-19 and the India 'A ' team before playing domestic cricket. But how tough a challenge will it be to play domestic cricket?
Whatever matches I have played, whether it is India 'A' or the Emerging tournament, all have been outside the country. The domestic matches will be played on Indian wickets, where you need to work harder to get wickets, rather than tracks that I have played on so far. It will be challenging to play against a top side like Mumbai in my first match but if I start well from my first match then I can keep the momentum going for the whole season.
You are an unknown quantity when it comes to domestic cricket, because no one has seen you bowl. Will that work to your advantage in the Ranji Trophy season?
Yes, you can say that will be the key point, because no one knows much about my bowling. They have not seen me bowl so there won't be much of planning against me. I don't want to think much about that and I just want to focus on bowling in the right areas.
Indian wickets are mostly slow in nature and help the batsmen more than the bowlers. You must have spoken to your coaches, or former fast bowlers, on the same. What do you think is the key for a fast bowler to do well on these wickets?
When I was with the Kolkata Knight Riders during the IPL I used to discuss with Wasim [Akram] Sir on how to bowl on the sub-continental wickets. He told me to keep one thing in mind, and that is bowl in the right areas, because if you bowl in the right areas consistently no one can hit you from there. But if you try to do something from your side, sometimes you might get confused and get mixed up in your plans.
So I will focus on what I have to do -- that is to bowl in the right areas, with the right line and length. I will try to focus more on reverse swing, which is my strength basically. The SG ball, when it gets old, will move a lot, so I think the SG ball will be the key for me to get wickets. I am working on the same in the nets -- to be more accurate and consistent with the reverse swing deliveries.
Wasim Akram is a legendary bowler. What other inputs, mainly technical, from Akram have helped to improve your bowling?
As far as the technical point is concerned, he has given me one or two points, like the wrist position and how to control both the inswinging and outswinging deliveries, which has helped me a lot in recent times. I have worked on it and have developed it in my way, because you just can't take it from what others say; you have to develop it in your own way.
I believe that I have the right frame of mind going into the new season and I also believe that I am in good rhythm. I have got a lot of confidence from my recent selection into the Indian team, so I think it will all help me.
Did you expect the call-up at such a young age and so early into your career, even before you played a single Ranji Trophy match?
Actually, talking of calls-up, my recent selections, like being called up for the IPL and then for the India 'A' team even before playing a single Ranji Trophy game and the Emerging Trophy, they all came as a surprise for me. But the biggest of them was being called up to the Indian team.
There were a few injuries in the Indian team, so it was on the back of my mind that I could get a call-up anytime. I wasn't thinking of what I would do if I got selected, but I was quietly confident. In all, it was a nice experience and I learnt a lot of things, like how the batsmen plan themselves at the highest level, how the bowlers work out in the nets and their training schedules.
Also, I spent some time with the Indian team's bowling coach Eric Simons and he also gave me some nice tips. He also said that after watching my action, my rhythm, that whatever I was doing at the present is perfect. He told me to continue in the same way. He said it is a long process for me and that I have a long way to go, but if I continue to bowl in the same way my pace would increase in the next one or two years and then nobody could stop me from being in the Indian team.
How important does domestic cricket hold for a youngster like you in times of the IPL?
For me, domestic cricket holds the prime position, since I started playing cricket at a very small age. I always dreamt of being in the Ranji Trophy squad, which is the first platform to make it to the Indian squad. It holds an important position in terms of my career as well because if I do well in the upcoming domestic season, it will play a big part in shaping up my career.
How was the experience of bowling to master batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the nets? What lessons did you learn from those sessions?
Obviously, the important lesson I learnt that was that the room for error at that level is very, very less. If you bowl a half-volley at the domestic level, probably out of five half-volleys you would get hit for only one or two balls, but while bowling to the Indian batsmen, like Dravid, Laxman or Tendulkar, I realised that there is no room for error. That has helped me a lot because when I recently played the domestic Twenty20 tournament it was all looking like that I am ready for that level because I have seen things at the highest level.
Zaheer Khan is rated as the best left-arm pace bowler in the world at the moment; he proved it in the recent Test series against Australia. You must have learnt a lot watching Zaheer bowl and from your interactions with him. Isn't it?
I didn't get to interact with him in the nets because he was resting for one or two days. But having seen his bowling and the way he keeps his focus even when bowling with the old ball and the aggression that he shows, those are some of things you should pick up from him. I learnt a lot from seeing him bowling from the outside.
Many fast bowlers have made it to the Indian team at a young age but many of them have slipped down the radar because of injuries and fitness issues. How hard do you work on your fitness?
I think it is an important issue and I am focussing on it. The National Cricket Academy is playing a part by educating the fast bowlers and helping them plan their workout and practice sessions. Looking at the amount of cricket we are playing at the moment we don't have an off-season, so that is why injuries are a concern. If we plan our schedule and training regimes properly I don't think injuries will be a concern.
Who is your idol or your hero when it comes to fast bowling?
From that point of view, I have learnt a lot from Wasim Akram by talking to him and watching him bowl on television and in the nets. All fast bowlers have their unique identity, so I try and pick up new things and develop it accordingly.