The new hero

PTI

“It is important to be in the best frame of mind. I try to interact with people who give positive vibes on the day of the match,” says the India under-19 skipper Unmukt Chand to Vijay Lokapally.

Unmukt Chand has had a busy and a very tough time. India’s success in the Under-19 World Cup has transformed him into a celebrity overnight. But he was also in the centre of a controversy involving St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi which refused to give him the admit card for exams because of low attendance. (The Delhi University, however, permitted the player to move into the second year on the condition that he clears his first year examination during the year.) Unmukt handled it all adroitly, with a mature approach.

The gifted Delhi and India Under-19 opener spoke to Sportstar about India’s World Cup victory, the resultant public attention he has been receiving and his experience in first-class cricket.

Excerpts:

Question: Delhi has a strong junior cricket structure with many tournaments in a season. How much has it helped you grow?

Answer: It has helped me a lot because I played a lot of 30-40 overs cricket, even two matches in a day. It helped me gain valuable experience. I gained a lot by playing with the seniors. Playing a lot of school cricket helped me develop my strokes.

How do you prepare for a match?

I don’t do things differently. I have my own routine and I like to stick to them. I try to do the same things again. I don’t think too much before a game; I just relax and try to sleep early and stay in good space before a match. I try (to focus on) all areas — mental, physical and psychological. I should know I am feeling good. It comes from meditation. It helps on the morning of the match.

What does mental toughness mean to you?

Mental toughness is very important because after a certain point of time, they are all the same. In the World Cup, all teams were the same and what really separated you from the rest was your mental toughness. It depends on how you play on a given day. It is important to be in the best frame of mind. I try to interact with people who give positive vibes on the day of the match, and I avoid people who make me feel negative.

What are your views on shot selection?

I like the square cut. I don’t like to swing wildly, but I like to play most of the shots. I try and avoid shots wide of the stumps. The shots you play the most would get you out as well. If the ball is pitching wide outside the stumps, I will avoid it. The square cut is important. If a shot fetches me runs I must play it. As an opener, I also know that leaving the ball is important. I like to leave more balls initially.

Do you look forward to interacting with the seniors?

Cup of joy… players of the India under-19 team celebrate with the trophy after winning the World Cup in Townsville, Australia.-PTI

I like talking to the seniors because normally they are very helpful and frank. They can analyse so well. Of course, they have to be communicative.

Can you tell us what you learnt from your coaches, Sanjay Bharadwaj and Naveen Chopra?

Sanjay Sir gives me a lot of confidence. Technical things are always there. Main thing is the mental thing. Naveen Sir always backed my abilities and gave me the confidence to hit centuries. Sanjay Sir takes care of the technical part of my game. If I am down, he backs me the most; always tell me not to restrict myself. I listen to all the advice but refine them and do what I feel is best for me. I always go back to my coaches.

Your interaction with Virender Sehwag...

Viru bhaiyya is so supportive. We spoke during the IPL. He told me not to plan. He backs himself because he has the strokes. He insisted that one must have the confidence to destroy a bowler. He told me never to hesitate in playing my shots.

When do you think you have batted well?

When I am in control; when I make runs as I desire. In the World Cup final, I was in that mould. Like the 151 against Railways (in Ranji Trophy). I knew what was happening. My heartbeat was really slow. I was doing what I wanted to do. It happens to me most of the time. One thought at a time. My focus is always in place and that makes me happy.

Can you describe your first-class cricket experience?

My first season was successful. I started with a 35 and then they bowled outside off, I got frustrated and got out. Thereafter, I learnt to be patient, scored three fifties, but the hundred against Railways boosted my confidence. In the next match (against Mumbai) I got out thinking too much. I saw too much and my expectations grew, and I got into problems. Now I don’t think much about myself and the opposition. It helps. My second season was not that good. I got off to some good scores but couldn’t convert them into hundreds. It does impact your confidence. It was all about conversions and I achieved it in the under-19.

In the Indian Premier League, you got out playing aggressive shots to Shane Warne and Lasith Malinga. How was the experience?

Against Malinga, it was my first IPL match. I was at the Kotla not as a spectator but as a player. My school friends were there, I knew I was on TV. It felt strange. I just went out, played a shot and got out. I was in a sort of a trance. Against Warne, I was a bit scared. I could have stepped out and hit that ball but then I thought ‘Oh, it is Warne!’ I played back and got out only because I was overawed. It was a nice learning experience and this IPL I remained calm and played as I should.

How does it feel with so much public attention?

People are trying to make me grow up suddenly. I am normal within. I just want to go out there and play. Just want to get back to the cricket field.

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PTI

Set for take-off

Two years ago, when Unmukt Chand made his debut for Delhi at the senior level in the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day match against Jammu and Kashmir at Sirsa (Haryana), he was roughly a month away from his 17th birthday. Yet, the diminutive and soft-spoken schoolboy showed that he was level-headed and had the confidence of a seasoned campaigner. The tag ‘promising youngster’ suited him aptly.

In his second List ‘A’ match against Punjab, Unmukt proved his mettle by scoring a blistering 59-ball 74 with 10 fours and a six. The knock was good enough for him to make an impression even though an established player like Shikhar Dhawan stole the show with an entertaining 83 at the other end.

Unmukt has always made an impact, both on and off the field. His steady rise in junior cricket was a reflection of his overall personality. It was befitting that he led India to victory in the Under-19 World Cup before finishing his duty as a junior.

Under the tutelage of coach Sanjay Bharadwaj, who is also Gautam Gambhir’s mentor, Unmukt learnt his first lessons in cricket at the tender age of six. Armed with a natural talent for playing fluent strokes, he had the determination to make it big. Unmukt was clear about what he wanted. He set targets (in his personal diary) and achieved them with confidence. He represented Delhi in the under-15, under-16 and under-19 levels and made his mark with a series of fine performances. It was only natural that he made it to the Indian under-19 team and led the side to some title wins.

The victory in the quadrangular series in Visakhapatnam in October last was an indication of things to come for the India under-19 team. It beat Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia to claim the title. Unmukt scored two half-centuries and an unbeaten century as India remained undefeated in the series.

The confident opener showed his big match temperament in the final of the under-19 World Cup in Townsville, Australia. Unmukt busted the myth associated with ‘Nelson’ as he scored a stroke-filled unbeaten 111 (seven fours and six sixes) to guide India to victory.

It was a rare feat for both Unmukt and India. The Indian captain became the first cricketer after Stephen Peters of England (1998) to score a century in an under-19 World Cup final. For India, it was the third under-19 World Cup triumph after Mohammed Kaif (2000) and Virat Kohli (2008) had led India to victory. Former India captain Sourav Ganguly was effusive in his praise for Unmukt. “He scored a hundred in a World Cup final. He hit six sixes, and all of them were clean hits and he hit those from the crease. That means he is a strong lad,” the former India captain said.

Yuvraj Singh also appreciated the effort of Unmukt on the big stage. “I was there at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) when the under-19 team was leaving for the World Cup and had spoken to them… Unmukt is a talented boy and he scored a good hundred. He has a good future,” said the experienced left-hander.

It is now up to Unmukt as to how he shapes up in the future. His next challenge will be to prove his worth at the senior level. Unmukt has played a few first-class matches in the last two seasons and scored 738 at an average of 43.41. He has also played some matches for Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League. The time has come for Unmukt to be more consistent at the higher level, face different kinds of bowlers in varying conditions and handle pressure situations. The transition, as experts say, is the key as several talented youngsters have faded into oblivion after shining brightly at the junior level.

With a mature head on his shoulders, Unmukt should be able to make his mark at the elite level too.

Y. B. Sarangi