Late last year, teenaged Delhi opener Unmukt Chand impressed his then Ranji coach Manoj Prabhakar so much the former India all-rounder paid the ultimate compliment. “He reminds me of a young Sachin Tendulkar,” he told HT. But he also warned that the Delhi youngster played far too many shots while Tendulkar was remarkably mature even when he burst on the scene.
And Unmukt’s lacklustre showing in the last Ranji season only seemed to vindicate Prabhakar’s assessment.
However, the talented batsman is poised for a career lift-off, after being named the U-19 World Cup team skipper.
“Of course, there is a difference between Ranji and U-19 cricket,” Unmukt explained. “At the Ranji level, I was getting good starts but wasn’t able to convert. But that is past. Now I am more positive, there is more self-belief,” he said, pointing to his back-to-back tons that helped India emerge joint winners with Pakistan at the U-19 Asia Cup last week. The key to those knocks was his patience, as the strike rates of 60 to 70 showed.
Growing up fast “This U-19 is my team and the boys are my responsibility,” he said, sounding like a veteran. “My idea has been to bat through the innings to help build a large total. And it is not that I have changed my game. I still play shots but whenever it is required to buckle down, I do.”
The U-19 team has a strong chance to win the title in Australia next month. The players have been together since their U-16 days.
“We also have experience playing at Townsville (where India will play their Cup matches).”
In fact, in the quadrangular they played in Townsville in April, Unmukt impressed with the bat. “Although the tracks will be bouncy, we know what to expect. It helps that we've played every team except South Africa.”
The team is a fun-loving group. “We are always dancing and listening to music. We carry the Harman Kardon speaker. The moment we go into lunch, we switch it on. The moment the match ends, we switch it on…It helps that our coach Bharat Arun is even more chilled out.”
To make things interesting, each member has been assigned nicknames. Fellow opener Manan Vohra is 'Boom Boom' while Unmukt is aptly dubbed ‘Captain Nemo’, the anti-hero in Jules Verne’s adventure novel ‘20,000 leagues under the sea’.
The U-19 World Cup and the next season will indicate the direction Unmukt’s voyage will take.