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India's diary-writing, dictionary-wielding captain

Unmukt Chand, who is leading India's U-19 side to the World Cup, is not quite your everyday up-and-coming cricketer

George Binoy

August 9, 2012

Comments: 29 | Text size: A | A

Unmukt Chand raises his bat after scoring a century, Australia v India, Quadrangular U-19 Series final, Townsville, April 15, 2012
Unmukt Chand: comfortable with a cricket bat or a Scrabble board © Getty Images
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Unmukt Chand looks your standard 21st century teenage athlete being groomed for a future on the professional treadmill. T-shirt, shorts and fashionable flip flops; strong physique earned in the gym; rakish hair and traces of stubble. Then, while talking about captaining India's Under-19 team, he says he was never put under any real pressure because there were no "recalcitrant players" in the side. Older people with larger vocabularies might struggle to tell you what "recalcitrant" means; Chand won't because he has habits that are at odds with those of the stereotypical newbie in India's IPL and PlayStation generation.

Chand is India Under-19's premier batsman and he's been given the responsibility of leading their World Cup campaign, which begins on August 11 in Queensland. His generation of cricketers is different from previous ones, and Chand is different among them. He is two seasons old in the Ranji Trophy and has an IPL contract with Delhi Daredevils. His bat is his bedfellow, but so are a couple of books.

"I keep a diary with me. I keep a dictionary with me all the time," he says. "Whenever I come across new words, I write them in the diary, look for their meanings in the dictionary, frame a sentence and try and use them when I talk."

Chand talks of writing a book: wildly ambitious for a teenage cricketer but not so outrageous, perhaps, for a regular diarist. "In the beginning, [diary writing] was very regular, all my daily routines. But now I write about how I feel - good or bad, what I've learnt from someone. Something I think is important, I jot it down. Sometimes at 3am I'm writing diaries.

"I feel that if you put pen to paper then it is a very strong way of learning. You don't forget things easily."

The world hasn't seen Chand bat yet - he didn't make a splash in the IPL - but he is a proven age-group cricketer, having risen through Delhi's youth structure. He has led India Under-19 in three tournaments and won two (the Asia Cup was tied). In the first, in Vizag in September 2011, Chand was the second-highest run scorer, making 336 at an average of 67 and strike rate of 106. He began that competition by gunning down Australia's 163 with Manan Vohra in 12 overs - in a 50-over game.

The second tournament was in Townsville, a venue for the upcoming World Cup, and it was the first time any of these boys were playing in Australia. India lost all their league games in unfamiliar conditions but were in the semi-final because of the quadrangular format. Chand's 94 against England helped put his side in the final, where his 112 against Australia gave India the title. In the Asia Cup a few months later, he scored centuries in the semi-final, against Sri Lanka, and in the final, against Pakistan.

Chand says he takes his books along every time, to study while at the cricket. His parents are teachers, and studying has been second nature to him from his time at Delhi Public School in Noida, to Modern School, and now to St Stephen's College, an institution of high standing in India. When asked if it's hard to strike a balance between responsibilities as heavy as education and a career in cricket, Chand says it's not, because he has "grown up like this".

He gives credit to his parents and uncle for where he is today, recounting childhood routines of being ferried from home to the swimming pool to school to the cricket ground and home again. (Chand was also a national-level swimmer in the butterfly stroke when at school.)

"I'm really lucky to have very good support from my family," he says. "My uncle is my idol. He talks to me four-five times a day. We talk about everything - not just cricket, about what's happening in my life. I keep getting lessons from them. Whenever something good happens, they praise me, but they also caution me that this could have also happened. Thanks to them I've been saved from other influences."

Chand first played for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy while in Class 11, and for Daredevils the following year. He recalls with fondness the excitement and anxiety he felt in the lead-up to being named in the Delhi squad. The last two years on the domestic circuit, where he has mixed it with the professionals, have been instructive.

 
 
"It's really important not just to play cricket but to learn about it and learn about yourself... I've started knowing about myself, my game, and how I react in certain situations and certain conditions"
 

"Patience is the most important thing. In Ranji you need to have patience," he says of the difference between age-group and first-class cricket. "I remember in the first match I was playing, against Gujarat, I was playing well, but then they started bowling outside off stump, wide outside off stump. I left a few balls but then I got a bit impatient, went after a ball and got out. That's how I learned that you need to be patient. I can say that two years ago I was much more immature than I am today."

When asked whether the IPL is shifting the priorities of cricketers of his generation, Chand's response is that it is not, for him at least. "You can't play for India by performing only in IPL. You need to perform in Ranji Trophy," he says. "It's important for me as a cricketer to take it really seriously. It's an important tournament and a cherished one."

The IPL, however, gave Chand an experience that the Ranji Trophy could not - an exposure to the pressure of playing in front of 30,000 spectators and being watched by millions on television. Two days after his Class 12 exams ended, in April 2011, he was told he'd be playing his first IPL match the next day - against Mumbai Indians at the Kotla. "I was very excited, very nervous," he says. "There was a puja at home. Everyone made the occasion very special. But when all these things happen, you start thinking this is not a normal game, this is something else.

"As I entered the ground, I was totally oblivious. I didn't know what to do, what was happening. I was really nervous. I could visualise myself being telecast on the TV, my parents watching. So all these things were happening."

His two-ball duck on debut is a blur of emotion. "All these things will come with any newcomer," Chand says. "It came with me, and it was a good experience. You don't get to experience these things again and again in life. This year was much better. I was more calm, not nervous."

Chand played only two matches in IPL 2012 and hasn't had a breakthrough innings yet. However, the experience - of facing the speed of Lasith Malinga and the guile of Shane Warne, of trying to focus in the midst of terrific noise, of having every on-field action scrutinised by cameras - has put the challenges of Under-19 cricket in perspective.

"It has helped me stay cool under pressure at times when others were not, because I've been in those situations and I've been in that pressure," he says. "I try to give the confidence to as many players as I can, and share as much as I can."

Chand is good friends with his Delhi team-mate Virat Kohli, who is perhaps the perfect example of how success at the Under-19 World Cup can help a fledgling career take flight. Chand says he's not as aggressive as Kohli, and that he speaks to him about overcoming challenges in the early stages of a career - of the sort that Kohli has successfully overcome to become the master of the chase in one-day cricket.

When he was struggling to convert starts into big scores in domestic one-dayers, Chand says Kohli told him to "say to myself that I'm the best and just react to the ball. That was something that really moved me."

"After he [Kohli] returned from Bangladesh [the Asia Cup], he came to the dressing room once during a Ranji Trophy match. I asked him a few questions. He told me, 'I've understood my game. It took me three years. I didn't know what was happening for the first three years. Now I plan my game and play accordingly.' He's very encouraging to me. He's a good buddy."

One of the more recent entries in Chand's diary is from a meeting with Rahul Dravid, who spoke to the Under-19 team while they were training for the World Cup at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. The message Chand took from the interaction was that cricket is a process of "self-discovery".

"The most important thing for us is to be self-aware," Chand said of what Dravid told them. "All the big players [Dravid] has seen in his life were aware of themselves, of their personalities, of their games. It's really important not just to play cricket but to learn about it and learn about yourself. This is how NCA's helped me really. I've started knowing about myself, my game, and how I react in certain situations and certain conditions."

The Under-19 World Cup might not make or break Unmukt Chand's career but he will be a more self-aware cricketer for the experience; and his interactions with players from 15 other cultures could leave his diary full and dictionary well-thumbed.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 7:30 GMT)

Gotta like the guy. Hardworking, successful and values the Ranjhi more than the IPL. We need more of these guys.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 0:22 GMT)

I think this guy is definitely the next Virat Kohli, not only in cricket but also in fame. He's got the looks, the body and I can see him getting a lot of endorsements and commercials in the future, just like Virat. Coming back to cricket, he may not be as good as Virat but he has tons of potential and I think he could be India's future captain, after Virat of course.

Posted by mars2009 on (August 11, 2012, 23:21 GMT)

@ Sandstorm82 - Cricinfo is praising only Indian and English team , rest are nothing for them. Be patience!

Posted by   on (August 11, 2012, 19:21 GMT)

Seems too mature to be true! :O

Posted by Sandstorm82 on (August 11, 2012, 0:55 GMT)

Cricinfo you have let yourself down... Munafbhai's derogatory comments on Inzi and co posted but my response to him wasn't?! Fair play please!!!!

Posted by   on (August 10, 2012, 23:03 GMT)

Hope for the best,i want to see him playing big matches like does Virat,all the best dear ^^

Posted by   on (August 10, 2012, 14:17 GMT)

"Whenever I come across new words, I write them in the diary, look for their meanings in the dictionary"-Is he going to sit for GRE?...LOL

Posted by screamingeagle on (August 10, 2012, 6:21 GMT)

Seems like he has a good head on his shoulders. Plus he seems to be not shy in talking to big names. All that can only help.

Posted by MunafAhmed811 on (August 9, 2012, 16:01 GMT)

His English is good. This should not surprise anyone as most Indian study all their subjects in English at school. Saw a comment here which says most Indian players dont speak good English. Except PK , Hirwani 99% of Indian players in last 20 years spoke English as good as anyone. The real funny guys at English were Inzi , Imran Nazir, Ajmal etc.

Posted by mrmonty on (August 9, 2012, 15:41 GMT)

@Ronzi23, what has speaking Eglish fluently got to do with cricket? If that was true then Harsha Bhogle would have a been a genius cricketer.

Posted by ProdigyA on (August 9, 2012, 15:26 GMT)

I am actually very impressed with the new breed of Indian cricketers. Well educated, well informed, eager to learn and having such a maturity at such a young age. There is only one direction this can lead - UP.

Posted by Haleos on (August 9, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

@ admshafi - agreed. Same way some countries cant just survive on good bowlers.

Posted by Haleos on (August 9, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

@ Naresh28 - I hope he has dravids work ethic but seriously hope he is not another Dravid. Let him amke his own identity.

Posted by   on (August 9, 2012, 13:29 GMT)

Chand,Vijay Zol & Baba Aparajith may be the stars for the future

Posted by Naresh28 on (August 9, 2012, 11:17 GMT)

Actually I think Pujara is more like Dravid cricketwise. This guy is an openner. A real gem for India. I hope he learns good virtues from his seniors.

Posted by   on (August 9, 2012, 11:07 GMT)

I'm pretty sure he's gonna be the next Virat Kohli of India. Maybe not as good but I can see him getting all the endorsements and fame.

Posted by Ronzi23 on (August 9, 2012, 10:57 GMT)

Are we seeing the next Dravid in terms of fluently he speaks the english language? Because so many Indian players struggle with the language.. Dravid was a great speaker, thinker and player.. Hope this guy gets it together!

Posted by oopsiedaisy on (August 9, 2012, 10:41 GMT)

Even if he is half as good as Kohli or Dravid, India would have unearthed a gem. But for some reason, I believe that he would be much much more than that. Only time would tell. All the best for the upcoming world cup, young man. Be assured that billions would be rooting for you!

Posted by   on (August 9, 2012, 9:51 GMT)

Unmukt seems to be much wiser than what's reqd at this point of his career...hope it only helps him perform better...

Posted by   on (August 9, 2012, 9:05 GMT)

Replace Rohit Sharma with him for a while.

Posted by cimrsimg on (August 9, 2012, 8:59 GMT)

Apart from Chand, B Aparajith is one to look for.

Posted by Naresh28 on (August 9, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

I SEE A DRAVID LIKE PLAYER IN THE MAKING OF CHAND. I HOPE HE DOES WELL AS IT LOOKS LIKE HE WILL PLAY FOR INDIA SONNER THAN LATER. THE ADVANTAGE HE HAS IS THAT HE IS AN OPENNER AND THAT IS SOMEONE WHO IS RARE IN THE INDIAN SIDE. PATHAN, YUVRAJ AND KHOLI ARE ALL EX-U19 PLAYERS IN THE CURRENT TEAM.

Posted by   on (August 9, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

Future is very bright for INDIA... lots of talent emerging will soon be No 1 and will set the pace for others to follow.....

Posted by Nutcutlet on (August 9, 2012, 7:52 GMT)

All power & good fortune to this young man! His intelligent & informed approach will serve him well in an increasingly baffling world. The importance he attaches to his meeting with Dravid shows that he has excellent judgement in who is worthy of being adopted as a role model/ significant other. Moreover, how fortunate it is that he has chosen to pursue a career in cricket at this early point in his life. There is such a wealth of literature associated with our game - and I would encourage Chand to read about it as much as he can, and, beyond the world of cricket, read the acclaimed works of great writers, Indian & English/American/Australian, etc. As CLR James so memorably reminds us in Beyond a Boundary: 'What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?' Wisdom is in very short supply in our world and that is not acquired by non-readers, poor listeners and out-&-out materialists.

Posted by manisacumen on (August 9, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

He should have been drafted in after those stupendous performances against the Aussies and in Asia Cup. Any way, now let us hope india wins in australia. and if we do, we should surely take in unmukt and any good player from that win. Here's wishing all the best and to see him as deputy to virat at the earliest.

Posted by admshafi on (August 9, 2012, 6:16 GMT)

India's next big thing after kohli....... there are so many great batsmen in india since the begining,but where're fast bowlers or alrounders??? these one dymentional future prospencts cant help indian cricket too much.....

Posted by DeepakSarathy on (August 9, 2012, 4:00 GMT)

Great article!! Really hoping for big things from this guy... Delhi's batting machine hasn't stopped churning out the good ones.

Posted by   on (August 9, 2012, 3:44 GMT)

Aakash Chopra is another Delhi cricketer who is as recognised for his game as he is for his descriptive flair (as is evident from his columns on ESPN Cricinfo and stint as a television commentator during the IPL). Only time will tell whether Chand does a Chopra and the catches the attention of the five wise men. And now that he's revealed his plans to pen a book, he's got his first reader as well.

Posted by   on (August 9, 2012, 3:37 GMT)

I actually watched this kid play in school...it kinda makes me proud to see him carry on in such a big way.....Great going Unmukt.... :)

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George BinoyClose
George Binoy Assistant Editor After a major in Economics and nine months in a financial research firm, George realised that equity, capital and the like were not for him. He decided that he wanted to be one of those lucky few who did what they love at work. Alas, his prodigious talent was never spotted and he had to reconcile himself to the fact that he would never earn his money playing cricket for his country, state or even district. He jumped at the opportunity to work for ESPNcricinfo and is now confident of mastering the art of office cricket

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