You could be pardoned if you thought Unmukt Chand would have played for India already by now. After all, the last two U-19 captains before him to have led the nation to Junior World Cup glory — Mohammad Kaif and Virat Kohli — didn’t have to wait too long for their boys-to-men transformation. And to boot, Indian cricket had wasted no time in anointing the opener as the poster-boy of its future.
For many, Chand was the next Kohli. That was 2012. In the following two years, Chand remained a child star, waiting for the big break on the big stage.
As he waited, Chand’s stock took a massive dive. To the extent that some had even raised eyebrows on his selection to the India A squad to face the touring West Indians. Going into the two matches, there were few eyes on Chand, even with the entire gamut of the national selection committee in audience. But if he tickled their interest just a tad with a breezy unbeaten 79 at Brabourne Stadium on Friday, he must have gotten their complete attention at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday with an enterprising 111-ball 101, a knock that ensured that the West Indians leave Mumbai with little gains and two losses against the second-string Indian side.
The only resistance from the Caribbean side came in the form of Denesh Ramdin, someone who would knew what Chand has gone through in his nascent career so far.
Two of a kind
Ramdin too had captained the West Indies at the U-19 World Cup. He too had been touted as a future star from the moment he played competitive cricket. But for more than a decade, he had remained the prodigal son of West Indian cricket. The one they expected to take world cricket by storm. But not only did he fail to live up to his early hype, the Trinidadian’s innate genius came to the fore more in flashes than in bursts.
Like it did at Wankhede under the lights. When Ramdin walked to bat, his team looked well set for another humiliating collapse and a comprehensive hammering. But then he swept and pulled, and cut and glanced his way to three-figures while dragging the West Indian innings from disarray to the brink of an unlikely win. Along the way, he also provided a blueprint for his teammates in the dressing-room on how to tackle spin bowling by using his feet immaculately and dealing with the likes of Karn Sharma and Parvez Rasool with an unabashedly attacking intent.
Ramdin’s up-and-down career had seen an unprecedented surge in the last 12 months, culminating with him being named as the West Indian captain for Tests earlier this year. At the same time, the wiry wicket-keeper had also finally come of age in the limited-overs formats, establishing a place in the middle-order that had for long floundered without experience or credibility. Only last month, Ramdin had saved the blushes for his team against Bangladesh in an ODI with a counter-attacking 74 in the company of Kieron Pollard. Here, he came close to replicating that before falling for a valiant 102 off the same number of deliveries. But at least he had provided the visitors with a major positive that they could take into the ODI series starting in Kochi next week.
Flying start to season
Unlike Ramdin though, the two practice games were of immense value for Chand. The 2013-14 season — which included a solitary game for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL — had only seen him slip further from the radar. Questions were raised over both his temperament and technique. And both at the CCI and Wankhede, Chand did show glimpses of his indecisive judgement when dealing with deliveries leaving him. Often he flashed at those outside his off-stump and kept the slip cordon interested. But he survived. Having seen the new-balls off, Chand came into his own, and soon he was showcasing his entire repertoire of shots. His drives were punchy, played without much animosity but still full of force, and his cut-shots too were the same but played with more ferocity. Jason Holder and Jerome Taylor would test the bounce on the Wankhede wicket and Chand’s technique in handling them repeatedly, but it was the right-hander who came up tops, never shying away from playing the pull-shot. The part-time spin of Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood was dealt with more audacity, and Chand, who hit four sixes at CCI, added a few more here-mainly over the mid-wicket fence. He didn’t last too long after bringing up his ton but had by then ensured that the’2014-15 season had started on a bright note, even if against a mediocre attack.
Stuart Williams had played his first Test before Chand was born and had played his final first-class match before the Delhi opener had even played his first competitive junior match. With the visitors down to 10-men owing to an injury to Lendl Simmons and Darren Bravo knocked down by a stomach bug, the assistant coach not only had to show off his fitness on the field for close to 30 overs. The former opener even padded up to face the last two deliveries of the match.
Though he survived them, the fact that he was forced to return from retirement, if only for one match, was symbolic of how little momentum the West Indies will take from Mumbai over to Kochi.
Brief scores: India A: 282 in fifty overs (U Chand 101, KK Nair 64; J Taylor 3/51) beat West Indians: 266 for nine in fifty overs (D Ramdin 102, J Holder 54, D Sammy 50; D Kulkarni 3/39) by 16 runs