Some years ago, a cola commercial aired on Indian television showed a young cricketer peeking into the Indian dressing room, hoping to follow in the footsteps of then captain MS Dhoni. The implied message was that this young man had the smarts to wear the India blue one day. Alas, that is not to be, as 28-year-old Unmukt Chand announced his retirement from Indian cricket on Friday, following in the footsteps of his 2012 U-19 World Cup-winning team-mate Smit Patel in choosing to pick league cricket in the United States. over India.
But what made him take such a drastic step?
Speaking over the phone from San Francisco's Bay Area, Chand told ESPNcricinfo, "These last few years have been tough. But I wasn't going to give up on cricket completely. If I wasn't getting enough opportunities to play in India, where were the next four or five crucial years of my career going to go? I still get emotional imagining that I will never get to play for India again. But I have made some special memories while playing in India."
In the 2015-16 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy season, Chand scored 276 runs at an average of 34.50 for Delhi, including a 58-ball 103 against Gujarat. This ton also made him just the third Indian batter with three or more centuries in the format -- joining Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina at the time -- but he would be axed from the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2017. For the Ranji Trophy, he was part of the squad but never got a chance to play that season. "I am the first to admit that I had a lean patch in first-class cricket, but I was doing so well in white-ball cricket. Things started going wrong at Delhi, and that's why I opted to play for Uttarakhand in 2019. I also picked up an injury, and that set me back even further," he said.
"Just the shade of blue is not the one I had initially dreamt of."Unmukt Chand on playing in the US
Chand made his IPL debut at just 18 years and 15 days, and comparisons with Kohli, a fellow U-19 World Cup-winning captain, were inevitable. "Playing the IPL was a massive experience for me, but I wasn't very lucky during my stint in it," Chand, who struck his first IPL fifty for Mumbai Indians against Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2015, said. In the match that followed, the openers had a long partnership, and eventually, Kieron Pollard was sent up the order, with Chand missing out. He was benched from the playing eleven soon after and faded away from the IPL.
Chand now looks back at that time without any regrets. His IPL opportunities might be behind him, but he is now preparing to extend his career in T20 leagues around the world which will now be open to him.
The players from the U-19 World Cup-winning Indian team are sometimes called an unlucky batch. Much was expected of names like Chand, Baba Aparajith, Harmeet Singh, Vijay Zol, Sandeep Sharma, Akshdeep Nath, Hanuma Vihari and Patel. Of them, only Sharma and Vihari have graduated to senior honours.
"I too dreamt of playing for India one day," Chand said. "I did realise some of those dreams with my time at India U-19 and India A. I have been abroad for the past two months, but it doesn't feel too different from home. I am playing with and against new people. There are plenty of Indians in the cricket system here, and the game is being taken quite seriously. Just the shade of blue is not the one I had initially dreamt of."
Chand will turn out for the Silicon Valley Strikers in the Minor Cricket League in Bay Area - he will make his debut against the Socal Lashings on Saturday - and his long-term contract with them will also include guiding future generations of young cricketers. The Minor League Cricket Championship's National T20 Tournament that starts soon will pit teams from 27 cities across the United States. Over 400 players will compete in 200 matches across 26 venues.
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