Play had already extended beyond the scheduled closing time in the first unofficial Test against New Zealand A that ended last week. The light had faded to such an extent that the visiting skipper had been advised by the umpires to take his fast bowlers off after a single over with the new-ball. Also Read: Unmukt looks to make most of ‘A’ chance
But there was a buzz around the ground even at that late hour. On strike was Unmukt Chand and it wasnt just the 100-odd spectators at the Port Trust who were squinting to catch a glimpse of Indian crickets latest talent. Chief of selectors Sandeep Patil and his colleague Rajinder Singh Hans,who till then had preferred the confines of the dressing-room,too had walked across to a vantage point near the sight-screen. Also Read: Unmukt ‘fine tunes’ for the road ahead
The first ball he faced was a full-toss from leg-spinner Todd Astle,which was duly smashed to the square-leg fence. But two confident lunges on the front-foot and five balls later,he was out,having edged an Astle leg-break to the wicket-keeper. Not long after his departure,Patil and Hans too were on their way.
It wasnt the first occasion that the 20-year-old Delhi opener had walked to the middle with all eyes,including the ones that matter,on him. And it wont be the last. Unfortunately,it wasnt the first time either that Chand had let slip an opportunity to flaunt his batting talent.
Ever since his heroics in Indias U-19 World Cup triumph 12 months ago,Chand has been branded the next big thing. A spot in the India A squad on a tour to New Zealand ensued soon after. But after starting with a bright 54 he faded away,and overall averaged just 28.25 in four innings. He didnt fare much better during the Ranji Trophy for Delhi either,averaging 37.08 in 13 innings with a sole century in a run-fest against Tamil Nadu. The IPL didnt see the best of Chand and he was one of the disappointments of the India U-23 teams successful run in Singapore recently.
Starting Monday,the youngster will get another chance to mark his presence in the four-day encounter at the ACA-VDCA Stadium against New Zealand A. And it wasnt surprising that Chand was given an extensive work-out under Sanjay Bangars supervision on Sunday,two lengthy net-sessions followed by an exclusive knocking session.
Chand isnt the first U-19 star to be burdened by expectations. There has in fact been a perennial progression of junior World Cup headliners breaking into the national team over the last decade. From Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh,Irfan Pathan and Dinesh Karthik,to Virat Kohli.
The last name on the list has been the one Chand has most been compared with,considering the swashbuckling style both youngsters possess. While Kohlis profile grew with his contributions to the national side,Chand has already appeared in commercials without having had such success.
Whatever his reputation,Kohli had continued to bang on the selectors doors with prolific returns season after season-he averaged 53.28,55.72,86 and 65.42 in three successive domestic seasons after a slow start. Chand,despite three full seasons of first-class cricket,will have to point to the 111 he scored at Townsville to clinch the junior crown last year as his achievement.
Now,others have come up with more noteworthy returns in the interim,Jiwanjot and Vijay Zol to name a couple. As the match-winning 116 in the Vijay Hazare final exemplified,Chand has the talent and will continue to remain highlighted in the selectors radar though. While time is certainly not running out for him yet,Chand wouldnt want to remain the U-19 star who never grew up.