Part of the India ‘A’ one-day unit touring Australia for a quadrangular series starting 20th July, Unmukt Chand, after an indifferent year, returns to the country which made him the poster boy of junior cricket in India.
The roles, however, have changed, and the situation is not the same as it was during 2012 and early 2013. He is no more the skipper, which he was of the U-19 unit and the India ‘A’ team which played against touring New Zealand ‘A’ in August 2013, and the runs are not on his side.
To reinstate the reputation he created after the U-19 heroics, Chand has to ensure that he’s back to his best when he visits the country where he lifted the U-19 World Cup. Relishing the challenge of performing Down Under, again, Chand is happy to pen a fresh chapter at his favourite hunting ground.
“Australia has been a good hunting ground. And, I want to go there and do well.” Chand’s ‘A’ call did raise a few eyebrows as other selections were of players with a good domestic or IPL season under their belt. Was he surprised to make the cut?
“Not at all. I did well while I played for the ‘A’ team last time around. Even this year, I have been doing really well in the one-dayers. Even for Delhi, I did reasonably well. Though we didn’t qualify, but I got some decent hits in the middle. So I was always confident about my one-day selection,” says Chand who led the ‘A’ side against New Zealand ‘A’ and amassed 164 runs in three innings.
The phase which Chand was undergoing early in his career – from 2012 to some part of 2013 – was one any junior cricketer would trade anything for. Everything was falling in place and it seemed the ‘big call’ was close to the door knock before he descended, and descended big, on the ladder to the Indian cricket team.
“Well, I had good knocks but they have come in patches. I get a good run, then a not-so-good one. It has been a mix of all these things, and I guess this is what prepares me for the bigger stage. From here on, I can only see myself going up the ladder. I am prepared, mentally balanced now than I was a year back,” Chand says with a pinch of maturity in his tone.
On how he will make up for the opportunities lost only time will tell, but for Chand it has been a lesson learnt. Both cricket and life have turned out to be great levelers for the 21-year-old, who went through an indifferent 2013-14 season, where he managed only 268 runs in 11 innings during the Ranji Trophy and played only one match during the IPL. With the cricketing scenario in India evolving into a perform or perish mode, it’s more than a good knock which Chand needs to be back in the reckoning again.
“It’s good that I have had a low phase as well. Whatever happens happens for the good, so I can say it was a good thing to happen. It’s been a journey for me, full of ups and downs. So there is nothing to feel distraught about. I am always up for challenges and know failures are equally important,” says Chand.
Chasing the ‘big moment’
A Ranji Trophy debut in Class XI, an IPL contract in Class XII, a World Cup win in college, and the weight of expectations from Chand increased every time he scratched the popping crease. More than what the others (coaches, former players, selectors) expected from him, his own expectations dictated how he wielded the willow in the middle. To repaint the moments he lit the canvas with during his U-19 days, Chand has only looked a disappointing shadow from the past.
In an interaction with The Indian Express earlier this year, his U-19 coach Bharat Arun, too, felt on similar lines and said,”if he gets the process right, he’s a player to watch out for.” Bharat, who coached India to the title triumph in 2012, also said,”the problem with Unmukt is that he tries too hard to emerge as a match-winner every time he goes into bat.”
The student seconds his coach’s thought.
“When I look back, that is very much correct. But the best thing is that whenever you think about doing that, you think about it before the game that you have to be the man of the moment. You in a way prepare for that challenge. But when you are playing, you don’t have those feelings in mind. If I look back then whenever I have succeeded, I have been at my natural best.
“So you can say that I was expecting too much out of myself after the success I got. I started planning too many things, started experimenting too many things. But now I have understood that it’s more about being yourself, playing the normal game,” says Chand.
‘Not missing the bus’
Chand feels things change rather quickly in cricket, and the youngster is not reading too much into the year gone by.
“At 21, I am at a stage of my career where I have all reasons to be motivated all the time. I’m not missing the bus. I have a long career ahead of me and if I get demotivated at this stage of my career, then it’s a bad sign. Things change really quickly in cricket. In 2-3 months time, things change drastically. So it’s all about being there and preparing, preparing, preparing. I feel that if I prepare well then I, when my time comes, can deliver more than anyone else can,” says Chand.