By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Walking in the footsteps of Mohammad Kaif and Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand has taken India to glory at the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2012. While the two former under-19 World Cup winning captains didn’t set the stage alight in the final, Chand saved his best for the last and stroked a brilliant 111 not out to anchor India’s pursuit of 226. It is his third consecutive hundred in a tournament final for India under-19 and establishes him as one to watch out for in the years to come. It was a thorough team effort in the final – one where the bowlers did their job well and the batsmen finished the task at hand to clinch the ultimate prize there is for young cricketers.
India’s bowlers continued their good form and limited Australia to 226 after winning the toss and putting the hosts in. Sandeep Sharma – a bowler who is in the Praveen Kumar mould – was the wrecker in chief with four wickets. He lacks pace, but makes up for it with good movement in the air and off the seam. The Australian top order collapsed to 38 for four until their captain William Bosisto took matters in his own hands. It was his unbeaten 87 along with a few cameos that helped take the hosts to 225.
Coming into the all important final, it was evident that India’s batsmen hadn’t had the best tournament. With the exception of Prashant Chopra, all the other batsmen weren’t able to strike consistency. The conditions have majorly favoured the bowlers and made life difficult for the batsmen. India’s run through to the final is due to the consistency of their bowlers – who have been economical and created the pressure by picking the wickets. It is due to their efforts that India have been able to defend smallish totals through the tournament.
Chand’s form during the tournament wasn’t as prolific as his record over the last year. He had just one fifty to show with a few scores in the single figures. In the lead up to the final, the danger of him getting a big score was looming large going by past history. In a quadrangular tournament held in Australia earlier this year, it was Chand’s fantastic hundred in the final that helped India conquer the hosts. Against the arch-rivals Pakistan in the final of the Asia Cup, he scored another brilliant ton in a tied game. Keeping his latest knock in perspective, it is clear that Chand has been a big match player for India under-19.
The stage looked set for Chand when the in-form Chopra was dismissed for nought early in the innings. In company of Baba Aparajith, Chand commenced a counter-attack that took Australia by surprise. Some of the shots the duo played were absolutely exhilarating. Chand in particular was combative and fearlessly played shots on the rise. The six he hit off Gurinder Sandhu was a fantastic display of maintaining balance and picking a ball on its length. Aparajith’s played a pull-shot that was an example of his good sound technique.
While the assault was damaging, Australia didn’t give up and came back with the wicket of Aparajith. From that point onwards, the pressure intensified as the Indians couldn’t get the ball away. There were too many dot balls to go with the Aparajith, Hanuma Vihari and Vijay Zol. Chand too found it difficult to match his early belligerence. It looked like the struggles of the Indian middle order were returning to haunt them at the most crucial stage of their campaign.
Smit Patel and Chand went about the recovery in a mature fashion. The asking rate was going up, but they reduced the number of dot balls and tried to construct a partnership. One could see the Australian bowlers were still in their element with a number of good balls. Although, the Indian batsmen kept ticking the scoreboard, the Australians bowled in the right areas as the asking rate went over a run a ball.
The most impressive aspect about Chand was his temperament. Through all those tough moments, he didn’t attempt a jail-break shot and merely played the ball on its own merit. The 40th over is evidence of how well he batted and maintained his composure. He charged to the off-spin of Ashton Turner and found himself beaten in the flight. Chand adjusted well and merely pushed it for a single. However, off the next delivery he faced, Chand charged down and lofted it for a huge six – a shot that was reminiscent of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. That showed that he was watching the ball well and willing to see it through to the end. It was a crucial moment because it swung the momentum in India’s favour.
It wasn’t just the way he batted, but also the way he guided his partner. Being the best batsman in the team, the onus was on Chand to guide his team and calm the nerves. If Patel would have a few nervy moments, Chand would walk up to him for a chat. Even when Patel played a few unnecessary strokes, Chand would express his disappointment and then walk up to him again.
While we heap praises on Chand’s brilliant effort, we mustn’t forget the importance of Patel’s contribution. He held one end solidly as Chand opened up during the slog overs. With Chand smashing sixes at will at the other end, it would have been very easy to get carried away. However, Patel was mature and only attacked deliveries in his zone. His fifty was a good reward for all the hard-work and fight shown during the middle overs.
While Chand is compared to his state-mate Kohli, his reactions on winning the game were in stark contrast to the Indian vice-captain. Back in 2008, Kohli had made an entry as a brash youngster who wasn’t afraid to express himself. In contrast, Chand was very composed and well behaved when the moment arrived. The comparisons would continue though and Chand has an ideal role model to emulate ahead. The stage is set and his real test starts now.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )