Jaydev Unadkat, who led Saurashtra to the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 final, had a phenomenal season where he pocketed 39 wickets from eight games. @ AFP

On the eve of the selection committee’s meeting in Mumbai to pick the squads for the limited-overs series against Australia, Jaydev Unadkat’s name has zoomed up the pecking order. The Saurashtra skipper is now a hot contender for the left-arm pacer’s slot when the squad will be announced on Friday.

India will play two Twenty20 Internationals and five ODIs, starting February 24, following which the think tank will zero in on its ICC World Cup 2019 unit. Unadkat, who led Saurashtra to the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 final, had a phenomenal season where he pocketed 39 wickets from eight games which has brought him back into the reckoning for India.

“Yes, very happy how the season has gone. It’s just that I am not worrying about anything. If I play one game for Saurashtra and the next for India, it doesn’t matter. I am going to give more than 100 per cent to ensure I win it for my team. That mindset will help me for sure and I am just going to keep doing that,” Unadakt, who last represented India in the T20I format during the Nidahas Trophy final against Bangladesh in March 2018, tells CricketCountry. (ALSO READ: Will selectors pick Vijay Shankar, KL Rahul and Jaydev Unadkat in India’s World Cup squad?)

The selectors have already identified 13 slots for the World Cup. While Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are certainties in the pace department, Unadkat and Khaleel Ahmed, who has picked just four wickets in his previous five appearances for India (three T20Is and two ODIs), are in competition to grab the slot of the fourth pacer in the line-up.

India might look at Unadkat as a reserve bowler, should one of their three mainline pacers get injured. Quizzed on how he evolved this season, Unadkat pencilled in his improved fitness levels and a strong mindset. It can be recalled that in the last season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), after being sold to Rajasthan Royals (RR) for a whopping Rs. 11.5 crore to become the most expensive player, Unadkat failed to deliver the goods. That, however, is a thing of the past. (ALSO READ: India vs Australia: Jaydev Unadkat in fray for ODI recall)

“I started to worry about nothing else and just wanted to be in the moment. My fitness levels have improved, that’s one thing which always helps a fast bowler. No matter how strong you are, if you keep working on your fitness, it’s bound to make an impact on your performance. So, being fit throughout this season is something that I wanted to do, and I am happy that till the last game of this season, I was bowling with full intensity. Even in the fourth innings of any game, I was able to deliver it for my team, which proves that my body is taking the stress that I am giving it,” the 27-year-old lanky fast bowler explains.

“I feel the bowling rhythm has been good and that only comes with confidence after you deliver during practice and I would hope to keep that rhythm going in my bowling.” (ALSO READ: Shikhar Dhawan plays down “pressure” surrounding India at World Cup)

Captaincy too, Undakat reckons, had done him a world of good to his bowling. “Captaincy has come to me at the right time. Being the captain of the side has helped me do that, not think about anything and just to win that game. This season, the only thing on my mind was to win the Ranji trophy and nothing else. Captaincy also gives me that added responsibility in my game as well. I need to shoulder that responsibility that I need to be the strike bowler of the team and doing it for the team when it matters in the big games, so that has helped,” he said.

In direct competition with Khaleel, Unadkat feels that such contest only increases the skillsets of the bowler. “There is competition with everyone and it’s healthy competition. It’s not just between me and him (Khaleel), it’s with anyone else. The pool that we are in, in terms of bowlers, is huge, and that’s probably bringing the best out of all of us. It’s helping us raise our standards every single time. That’s one thing I have been looking to do every single time, to improve my levels, my standards, so that I can match and compete with all of them. I am happy with the competition and I am going to fight for it till the time I am playing,” he asserted.

Returning to the India fold after more than a year, Unadkat, who made his debut in 2010, feels that he’s playing the best of his cricket so far. (ALSO READ: Jaydev Unadkat suggests face masks for bowlers following nasty blow to Ashok Dinda)

“Every time I played for India, I have offered whatever I can to the best of my potential, but this is probably the best time of my career to be playing cricket. I have great fitness levels and I am at my peak right now. Whatever the role the team wants me to fulfil, that of a strike bowler, I will keep enjoying it,” he said.