Unmukt Chand is on a high these days. The 18-year-old could well be the next to make it big from Delhi’s formidable batting stable.
Leading from the front in India's triumph in the four-nation U-19 tournament in Visakhapatnam last week, he amassed 336 runs to finish as the second highest run-getter in the series, just one run behind Australia's Cameron Bancroft.
After scoring 400 runs at 57.14 in his Ranji debut last season, this performance suggests he is on the right track. Former India all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar, the Delhi coach, paid the ultimate compliment. “He reminds me of Sachin Tendulkar. He is that good.” He swiftly added a rider: “But Tendulkar had a stable head on his shoulders.” Traditionally, India U-19 skippers have been pitch-forked into the limelight and Chand will be no different. However, consistency and nurturing of his talent will dictate his progress.
Chand displays the verve of youth. “Leading India gave me a lot of confidence. It helped me with my batting too. It has been a bonus of sorts.”
His Delhi teammate Virat Kohli and Mohd Kaif are among those U-19 skippers who made the transition besides the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, who also shone as juniors. However, many have failed. The first names that spring to mind are Ravikant Shukla and Ambati Rayudu. Ashok Menaria, who led the U-19 squad in the last World Cup, is grinding it out in domestic cricket.
“To make the senior grade from U-19, you need two things — vacancy and consistency,” says Shukla, who was captain at the 2006 World Cup. Shukla admits he failed the consistency test. Cheteshwar Pujara, who was part of that squad, has made his Test debut. “He kept doing well for a long time, and eventually got a chance.”
For Chandrakant Pandit, coach of the 2010 U-19 World Cup team, it’s quality that matters. “It is not about how many runs you score. It's also how you score. Look at Kohli. He always looked a quality player.”
The influence of T20 on youngsters can work both ways. When Prabhakar talks about a stable head, he means Chand needs to be selective in his shots. “At the higher level, you need patience. The higher you go, the more vulnerable you become.”
Balwinder Sandhu, who coached the 2002 World Cup team, says, “BCCI shouldn't allow U-19 players to play T20 till they've played 15-20 first-class matches.” He has a reason. The talented Ambati Rayudu lost his way after dabbling in T20s. “He's a great talent but plays too many shots.”
Chand, who was picked by Delhi Daredevils, is unfazed. “Balancing all formats is the demand of modern-day cricket. I feel I can handle it.”