At the age of 19, he is already a household name in India. India’s Under-19 World Cup winning captain, Unmukt Chand, in an exclusive interview with CricketCountry, talks about comparisons with Virat Kohli, the row with the St. Stephen’s College and of course, the Under- 19 World Cup triumph among many things.
Excerpts of an interview with Amrut Thobbi:
CricketCountry (CC): Things did not go well for you at the start of the World Cup as India lost the first match against West Indies. What was the mood of the team following the loss and how did you lift the team?
Unmukt Chand (UC): To be honest, I did not have to do much as a captain. In our previous tournaments as well, we lost few matches initially. But we had a good belief in the team. We were aware that you can’t win all matches in a tournament. So, we were confident that we could always come back stronger which happened.
CC: Playing Pakistan is never easy in any sport for Indians because of the tragic and historic past. The match against Pakistan was nerve-wracking too. How tough was that challenge – especially for a young team?
UC: We knew that the match was going to be tense .But we played against Pakistan twice earlier. We lost to them in preliminary round of Asia Cup by one run, and later, the final of the tourney was tied. This time we had to win - as per the law of averages! We were always on the top in the whole game. We had our nervous moments with 12 runs needed at the end; it looked as if we needed 120 runs. It was a close match, but in the end, Sandeep (Sharma) and Harmeet (Singh) pulled off the match for us. Both really played sensibly.
CC: You played an epic innings in the final. Playing a powerful team like Australia in the final and in the opponent’s backyard and then turning a match that was seemingly going out our hands by scoring a hundred under intense pressure… That was something any cricketer would be proud of. You looked unflappable during the course of the innings. Can you reveal what was going in your head in those high-pressure moments?
UC: I was really confident from the start of my innings. Hitherto, I hadn’t scored much in the tournament. So, I knew my innings was due. At that point of time, I was in a so-called zone. I knew it was my day. Though it was the World Cup final, I wasn’t thinking of anything. I was just focused on winning the match for India. I didn’t even realise when I reached my fifty or scored a hundred.
CC: You have said before the Under-19 World Cup that tips given by Sachin Tendulkar have been pretty useful for preparations of the tournament. What tips did he give the team?
UC: He spoke of many things. He himself has had many successful World Cups. He is the best person to discuss different kinds of pressure that one can encounter in a World Cup. He told us the importance of being together as a team and that how by being together, one can nullify the pressure of a big tournament.
CC: Was it a conference call? Did you or the team management speak to him to pep up the side or did he call on his own?
UC: Well, we had the opportunity to meet him at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) personally. He sat with the entire team and motivated us with his very positive talks.
CC: Who from MS Dhoni’s team called you’ll after your unforgettable win in the final? And whose words were most heartening and why?
UC: Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina personally called me and congratulated after the World Cup win. Yuvraj called me the same day of winning the World Cup to congratulate and also wished me luck for the future. Raina called me the next day and praised the team’s performance. It was good to hear from them.
CC: Which players would you consider as the find of the tournament for India and who are the players to watch out for in future?
UC: All the players in our team are finds of tournament. Each player performed tremendously well. It’s a team sport and different player chipped in with crucial performances in different matches.
CC: Do you think your case of ‘sportsperson-student’ will act as a precedent and lead to change in the system in the country?
UC: See, it wasn’t a row. Media created a bit of hype with this issue. In the end, I would like to feel that whatever happens, happens for the good. I don’t need any marks for sport. But I feel sportspersons should be given attendance marks as they participate in different competitions. Else, since they are practising, they won’t be able to attend classes. If they are given attendance by the college, then the sportsman will be motivated to perform.
CC: Did you feel a tad disappointed with the events that unfolded between you and St. Stephen’s College?
UC: Not at all. As I said, whatever happens, it’s for good. Let’s look at the positives.
CC: How important are the academics for a student aspiring to be a sportsperson?
UC: Academics are definitely important for a sportsperson. With academics, a sportsman develops a perspective. One gets an outlook towards life and mind becomes sharper. There is a complete change in your personality.
CC: Post World Cup win, you have become a household name. How has life changed for you in the last one month?
UC: Well, I feel life has been the same. It feels good as you get a lot of accolades. However, you need to keep working hard and keep striving.
CC: Indian fans love comparisons. They and the media alike have already started making comparisons with Virat Kohli for obvious reasons like both of you play for Delhi and won the Under-19 World Cup for India as captains. How do you look at such comparison?
UC: I feel good about the comparison. Anyone would. But it’s important to understand that he has played two to three years for India. He has played some crucial knocks for India already and has become one of the best chasers in the game while I am yet to start off my international career. How I perform after the World Cup now will be more important.
CC: Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have almost sealed the spot in Indian Test team’s middle-order with their recent sparkling performances. Where do you see yourself fitting in the Indian team in future with the competition being so stiff?
UC: Cricket is a game. You can’t forecast anyone’s future. You can’t predict who is going to shine. Right now, I shouldn’t be thinking that too far and also predicting about my future. It’s still long way to go for me.
CC: You have been included in India A squad for the tour to New Zealand. How important is this series for you as India A’s performances are generally scrutinised by the national selectors for India selection?
UC: It’s very important tour for me. From now, every series is crucial, be it India A or the Indian Premier League (IPL), Champions League (T20). Irrespective of the tournament, I want to play my best cricket.
CC: How long have you been writing your diary? And what made you pen your thoughts?
UC: Well, my father gave me this advice. I have been maintaining a diary from childhood and I note every event of my daily life, and not just cricket.
CC: If you were not a cricketer, what would you have been?
UC: IITian. (smiles)
CC: Lastly, you are fast emerging as the pin-up boy of Indian cricket. Is the female following distracting?
UC: I appreciate the attention that I get, but I know it’s important to keep my feet grounded.
CC: Recently, Kapil Dev, reportedly chided you for attending a media event instead of attending practice sessions.
UC: See, he didn’t scold me but just said that I should have been rather practising and not come to the event. Initially I had said no, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) sent me there. So there is nothing much I could do or say there.
(Amrut Thobbi, an engineering graduate now pursuing Masters in journalism, is an ardent cricket fan. His passion for writing inspired him to give up a sales and marketing job, which he does not regret. By writing on cricket, he wants to relive his dream of becoming a cricketer. He has also worked as a freelance writer in education and technology sectors)