Jaydev Unadkat is in the middle of another promising season. The left-arm pacer captained Saurashtra to the Ranji Trophy final, picking 38 wickets in eight matches. He also became the highest-paid Indian at the IPL auction for the second straight year. After shelling out a whopping Rs 11.5 crore for Unadkat’s services last year, Rajasthan Royals bought the 27-year-old once again for Rs 8.4 crore for IPL 2019.

However, despite being the hottest property at IPL auctions and a workhorse in domestic cricket, Unadkat hasn’t had a steady run with the Indian team. His last international outing was during the Nidahas Trophy final in March 2018.

India has become a fast-bowling powerhouse in world cricket over the past year, and Unadkat knows the road ahead of him is only going to be tougher.

In an interview with Scroll.in, he talked about about his experience of leading Saurashtra, the growth of fast-bowling in India, and his standing amidst the intense competition. Excerpts:

You were quite skinny when you started out but have gained plenty of muscle over the years. How did this physical transformation come about?

As a fast bowler, it’s imperative to keep working on one’s fitness. I’ve been focusing hard on it since the past three-four years. In this particular season, I was happy with the way my body was able to cope with games that went till the fourth innings. I was able to generate the same amount of force and energy in those long spells in the fourth innings. I think that boils down to educating myself about what my body requires at different stages. Not just following schedules blindly, but studying the body and figuring out what’s the best course of action.

For batsmen, the way they practice each shot during the nets is important. Similarly, I think for bowlers it’s important to focus on making certain muscles stronger while training. These days, fitness is something that’s directly related to the game. If you look at the Indian team over the past four-five years, they have taken fitness to another level. Others look up to us now. So you have to aspire to reach that level, and it only helps improve your game.

India was never known for its fast-bowling prowess, but we have one of the finest pace attacks in the world at the moment. How do you think we got here?

It’s because of the talent we possess as a country. The number of players coming up now from various regions is beyond imagination. Take Mumbai for instance, if you look around, you’ll find at least 40-50 players who are ready to play first-class cricket. We always had the talent pool, and now with fitness standards being pushed to the limits, we’re seeing more world-class pacers emerge.

We obviously have one of the best fast-bowling units in the world at the moment. And I’m really happy that they’ve raised the standard so high that anyone who wants to compete knows what it’ll take to get there. For someone like me, or any youngster out there trying to make a mark, we know we’re competing with the best and have to work that hard to get there.

Image credit: Rajasthan Royals

Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the likes have established themselves as international cricketers. Where do you see yourself standing in the race?

I think this competition is great. I don’t take any pressure, rather it gives me confidence. My domestic season went well and the rhythm is good, so I do feel I’m there and there about. I just need to keep following the routines I’ve set. There’s still scope of improving every aspect of my game, be it fitness, skill or pace. So I just want to keep focusing on the things that are in my control, and I do feel that if I keep doing that my time will come.

I’m not putting any pressure on myself in terms of getting into the Indian team by a certain time. I just want to enjoy the game and give everything I have each time I step on the field and captaining Saurashtra has helped me in this regard. The responsibility has helped me focus harder on each game that I play, instead of thinking too far ahead.

But with the competition this stiff, do you feel one needs an X factor to edge ahead? What do you think makes you stand out?

You do need an X factor to make it to the highest level. No mediocre player has ever made it to the top. In day games, I feel swing and accuracy are my strengths. These are things I rely on greatly. And in white-ball cricket, of course, I bank on my variations. I think I’m known for that. I keep honing these skills and working on new ones as well.

These days, I’m working hard on developing accuracy with yorkers and slower-bouncers. This is a process that never ends. One can always learn something new as well as hone one’s strengths. I’m pretty confident of my skills and the X factor in me for playing at the highest level. You need to be this confident so that you can deliver for your team when a pressure situation arises in a match.

You’ve had a good domestic season and impressed as Saurashtra’s captain. Does leading a side come naturally to you?

Yes, it has been a great season for me, both personally and with Saurashtra as a team. To be the captain of a team that played the Ranji Trophy final and did fairly well in the T20s [Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy] as well is very satisfying.

I think captaincy has helped me a lot. I’m someone who loves leading a side. I was the vice-captain of the team for a few years and have also led district-level teams in the past. I think I always had that knack of leadership. This added responsibility has also helped my game. I love that feeling of standing up for the team at all times and showing the way.

Also, I’m quite close to all my teammates so that helps in captaincy. We’re all enjoying as a unit. I’ve heard from a lot of people that Saurashtra looks like the most tightly-knit team. Reaching the Ranji final, beating big teams like Karnataka, shows the character of our squad. And it wasn’t like we had five-six-seven players who were playing at the international level, it was our unity and desire to fight till the end that got us far.

Do you feel extra pressure because of the price that the Rajasthan Royals have paid for you?

Not really. I’m quite used to it by now. There was a lot of hype around it last year, but it’s much more calm and poised this time around. The kind of space I am in right now, it doesn’t matter to me if people keep talking about my price tag. At this stage of my career, I think it’s high time I focus just on my performance on the field rather than worry about what others expect.

As professionals, there is bound to be pressure on each of us every time we step on the field. Irrespective of the price tag, there’s pressure on everyone. It simply comes down to how you handle it. You have to cope with this pressure if you want to play at the highest level. I’ve been working on it since last year and am very happy with my head-space at the moment. My processes remain the same and I’m enjoying my cricket. The IPL will pose a different challenge compared to domestic cricket, but I’m hoping I’ll come out all guns blazing.

Virat Kohli recently said that IPL performances won’t be considered while selecting the World Cup squad. But it’s hard to imagine the selectors ignoring someone who has had a good domestic and IPL season. Is the thought of getting into the World Cup squad on your mind?

As a player, there’s no bigger dream than to play the World Cup for your country. But thinking about that will only add to the pressure and not help me in any way. Last year, I expected too much from myself and I don’t want to repeat that mistake. For me, going forward, it’s just going to be about the next game. Whether it’s a practice match before the IPL or the matches during the tournament. I don’t see any point in dwelling on things that are not in my control. If I get a chance, nothing like it, but I’m not going to worry thinking about that prospect.