Updated: February 16, 2018 8:08:45 am
It’s tough being Unmukt Chand. The Delhi opener got the axe after yet another underwhelming Ranji season, in which he accrued just 128 runs from four games spanning six innings. Things got worse when he was overlooked for the league phase of the Syed Mushtaq T20 tournament, and subsequently went unsold at the IPL auction. A week later, just when he was recalled for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he cracked his jaw after a stray ball hit him during a practice session.
The freakish injury aptly summed up a calamitous three months on the road for the 24-year-old. But Unmukt refused to get bogged down. He would come out to bat with a broken jaw and score a gritty 116 against Uttar Pradesh. That knock was by no means fluent and easy on the eye. However, given the circumstances and his indifferent form in the recent past, it was one of his grittiest. “I was experiencing pain in my jaw, but as long as my hands and feet are fine, I was ready to play,” he said. That century gave Unmukt a glimmer of hope, and it helped him restore a bit of his confidence and verve back. He followed that up with two fairly assuring half centuries in the subsequent five games of the tournament. This has given Delhi the much-needed solidity at the top of the order in the absence of an injured Gautam Gambhir.
On Thursday, in pursuit of Delhi’s 305 against Himachal Pradesh in Dharamsala, he scored a brisk 45-ball 42, taking his tally in the tournament to 319 runs from six games. “Thankfully, I’ve managed to get some runs under my belt now. I think the two match-winning knocks — during the final of the Syed Mushtaq Trophy and the century I had scored with a broken jaw against Uttar Pradesh were fulfiling for me,” he said.
Poor conversion rate
Despite the slight uptick in fortunes, Unmukt can ill-afford to discount his disastrous back-to-back Ranji seasons that ultimately led to the sack. Delhi coach KP Bhaskar said the youngster was dropped to get him out of his comfort zone. “Yaar, he was not scoring runs in the longer format. Just look at his stats. He has scored just two half centuries in 16 innings last year. This time around, he did not even manage to score a half-century in four games. As an opener, you cannot get away with figures like that. So, the selectors decided to drop him just to shake him out of his comfort zone,” Bhaskar said. Strangely, on both instances, he returned in the shorter formats and was immediately amongst the runs.
So, what exactly seems to trouble Unmukt in the four-day format? On the face of it, there isn’t any discernible trend. Sanjay Bharadwaj, Unmukt’s childhood coach believed it’s in his mind. “He is a hard-working lad, but the problem with him is his poor conversion rate, which I think is due to his cluttered approach and wavering concentration levels. I always ask him to play with a free mind.” His 10 centuries from 60 first-class games aptly summed up his dismal conversion rate. In his brief time away from the game, Unmukt has devised a plan to overcome this hitch.
“Going forward, in the longer formats, I will look to bat at least 100 balls every time I walk out to bat. Being a natural stroke-player, I know that if I bat for that long, I will score runs,” he explained.
It’s easier said than done. In the six innings this season, he has faced 100 deliveries only once — in the second innings against Uttar Pradesh at the Palam Ground. He conceded that his wavering concentration levels was a concern, and in a bid to address it, he got himself enrolled in yoga classes.
“I will do whatever I have to get back to scoring runs. Yes, shoddy conversion rate is an area that I need to work on,” he added.
After the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Unmukt will be out of competitive cricket for at least seven months. He hopes to use this time meaningfully. “During the off-season, I will be in Chennai to play in the Tamil Nadu senior division cricket.” Before that however, he would need to capitalize on his resurgence, and help Delhi cross the line in the knock-outs. That will dispell much of the gloom and negativity that had engulfed him during the Ranji season.
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