New Delhi: India's Under-19 skipper Unmukt Chand is on a roll. Last week, he scored consecutive hundreds in the semi-final and final of the U-19 Asia Cup - against Sri Lanka and Pakistan respectively - as India emerged as joint-winners, along with Pakistan, in the tournament. Earlier in the year, Unmukt scored 94 and 112* in the semi-final and final of a quadrangular tournament in Australia to help lift India to the title. He was adjudged Man-of-the-Match in the semi-finals and finals of both series.
The India U-19 team is doing exceptionally well under Unmukt’s dynamic captaincy and he has led from the front by rising to the occasion and performing brilliantly. He has fashioned himself in the team’s batting anchor and there are many who have touted him as a future India player. Comparisons with his idol Virat Kohli have become common while Manoj Prabhakar, a former Delhi player and coach, has said that Unmukt reminds him of a young Sachin Tendulkar.
Speaking exclusively with Cricketnext, Unmukt spoke about his form, team-mates and preparation for the upcoming U-19 World Cup in Australia.
You've earned the reputation of being a 'big-match' player. You shone in the semi-final and final during the quadrangular series in Australia earlier this year to take the team home and you again came good in the semi-final and final in the recently concluded U-19 Asia Cup.
UC: I'm ecstatic that I performed well in the semi-final and final of both the tournaments but I would like to say that all matches are equally important for me. I don't assign special significance to any particular match be it a semi-final or a final. In the league matches of Asia Cup, I took starts, scored a couple of 40s but couldn't convert them into massive scores. I'm sanguine that I'll churn out big scores in the league matches of the upcoming tournaments, and not just semi-finals and finals.
How do you prepare yourself for important matches? Does the challenge of playing in big matches bring the best out of you?
UC: I don't do anything different for, in your words, 'important' or 'big' matches. Let me reiterate that I take every match as a big match. There's no room for complacency. I always put my best foot forward in every match I play and try to win it for my team.
You pace your innings very well while chasing targets. How do you go about doing your bit when your team is chasing?
UC: The idea is to bat through the innings. I take my time initially to get the measure of the pitch and bowlers because I know that once I would get my eye in, I have the ammunition to make up for the dot balls I had played at the start of the innings. But of course, I go for the shots if I get bad balls at any stage of my innings. Sometimes, my approach also depends on the enormity of the target and how my batting partners are faring.
You scored a fine century against Pakistan in the final of the U-19 Asia Cup but the match ended as a tie after your dismissal in the last over. Were you disappointed at the result?
UC: Quite honestly, we should have won the final match given the kind of situation we were in but Pakistan bowlers did a speldndid job in the last five overs. Such are the intrigues of cricket which make it eminently compelling. In hindsight, both teams applied themselves superbly through out the tournament and neither of the teams deserved to lose. Probably, a tie is a fair reflection of how both the teams fared in the tournament.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned how Virat Kohli's unbeaten centuries against Sri Lanka at Hobart and against Pakistan at Dhaka this year inspired you a lot and they're your reference point when you're chasing the target. You've surely taken a leaf out his book and emulating him with unfailing regularity …
UC: Yes, both these innings have had a huge impact on me. The way Virat paced those innings was remarkable. He demonstrated creditable common sense. What stood out for me was the fact that he remained unbeaten till the end in both the innings and finished the game for the team as they were chasing the monumental target. I learned that once you reach the century, try to convert it into a massive score. I'm stoked that I've also managed to do something similar to him and I earnestly hope to do the same in the future as well.
India versus Pakistan matches are always high-voltage. The expectations of the fans are humungous and atmosphere is electrifying. Did you feel any extra pressure, excitement or nervousness playing against the arch-rivals?
UC: Not at all. For me, Pakistan is just another team. I didn't have butterflies in the stomach while playing against them nor did I feel any sense of rivalry. They are a quality side and I enjoyed the on-field tussle between both the teams. But for me, playing against Pakistan is just like playing against any other country. There's no extra burden or pressure or excitement. I like to keep things simple.
On the recent tour of the West Indies, the India A batsmen failed to do well and now the selectors must be closely looking at the next crop of young batsmen like yourself and Mandeep Singh. Do you realise that you are just a one good season away from being a serious contender for a place in the Indian team?
UC: Right now, my focus is to do well in the upcoming U-19 World Cup and win the trophy for my country. After the World Cup, my aim will be to do well in Ranji Trophy which is a gateway to Indian team. Performing well in domestic cricket is of paramount importance as it prepares you for the rigours of international cricket. I'll strive to give my best and if my performances will turn out good, I'm sure selectors are bound to take stock.
A lot of people think that despite being supremely gifted, you're yet to come terms to the standards of first-class cricket. Do you feel that you need to pull the plug on your impetuosity while playing the longer format of the game?
UC: I know where you're going. Look, I understand that there is a huge difference between the standards of U-19 cricket and first-class cricket. My first season in first-class cricket was reasonably good while the last season was lackluster. I've learnt my lessons and figured out few things which I did wrong. Last season was a learning curve for me and since then I've definitely become a better batsman. But, I don't buy the point that I play too many shots and go after the bowlers all the time. I agree that I must exercise more patience but I'm a stroke-maker and like to play my natural game. I can, and have, made minuscule adjustments but I cannot completely change my style.
Every batsman has his own way or approach to the game and I'm no different. What matters at the end of the day is how many runs one scores. Look at Virender Sehwag. When he started his career, a lot of people said that his game and style are not suited for Test cricket but we all know what he has achieved in Test cricket. Temperament and self-belief are the key to long-standing success and I would like to believe that I've got both of them.
Coming to the impending U-19 World Cup, which teams do you reckon are the favourites to win?
UC: I think it would be a blunder to under-estimate any team. All teams are looking good and each team has some quality players. Australia and England gave us a tough competition during the quadrangular series in Australia while Pakistan have shown their class in the Asia Cup. Sri Lanka have some abundantly talented cricketers. The World Cup will be an intense and closely contested event as each of the teams will come out all guns blazing.
Though India have been doing exceptionally well of late, barring you, no other batsman has been consistent and our bowling doesn't look formidable either.
UC: If the team had been solely dependent on me, we wouldn't have been winning everything from last one year. The truth is that every member of the team has chipped in with significant contributions. Manan Vohra is an amazingly talented batsman. He has been in sparkling touch and a big innings from him is on the cards. Vijay Zol exhibited his talent in the Asia Cup by striking a century and a half-century.
Rush Kalaria and Sandeep Sharma are a fine opening bowling pair for us while Vikas Mishra heads the spin bowling department with distinction. Baba Aparajit is turning out to be a fine allrounder. We've got the balance of the team right. Each member of the team is a match-winner on his day. Had they not exceptionally good, they wouldn't have been playing for India.