Indian cricket has taken a massive turn in the last couple of decades. The Men in Blue are producing a brand of cricket that is about dominance. Much of it comes from pure passion and great skill in the game. And what also contributes to this is just how big a talent pool India in itself is.
Which is why while we all gush about the fact that this is a country that produced icons like Kapil Dev or Sachin Tendulkar, there’s little surprise in that too given more kids take to cricket in the country than any other sport. And that’s despite India being home to a Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, and the latest national obsession, Neeraj Chopra.
India is a country where you tend to already decide what cricketing deity you wish to become before you hold the bat. Countless look to wear that blue jersey and represent their nation. But some exceptionally talented people get lost in this pool and cannot make it to the Indian squad.
Much like his famous predecessor from New Delhi, Unmukt Chand emerged as an exciting talent in the under-19 World Cup 2012. Unmukt Chand was appointed to lead the Indian side and did a splendid job. He scored a ton in the final against Australia, leading from the front to the victory and claiming the U-19 World Cup title.
It was a watershed moment in a young career that all expected to progress and it did progress before withering away. Everyone was impressed by his skills and waited to see him represent the senior Indian team. But unfortunately, no one got a chance to witness him play for the senior side.
Unmukt Chand, soon to actually wield the bat for the USA, believes he had everything he needed early in his Indian cricket career. The years 2010–2016 might be considered a golden period in the right-handed batter’s cricket career. Chand made his Ranji debut at the age of 18 in 2010, scoring 400 runs in just five matches. Later, he was selected to captain the Indian squad at the Under-19 World Cup.
He was the man of the match in the final against Australia, leading the team to a spirited victory. Unmukt Chand stated in an interview that he keeps a diary in which he records everything. He eventually published The Sky Is The Limit, a book based on those diaries. At the time, he was literally touching the sky. In the 2013 IPL Auction, the Delhi Daredevils bought him. He spent the next three seasons with the Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians.
For any cricketer wanting to rub shoulders with the best in the game, you cannot have asked for a better vantage point than the IPL.
A few established cricketers believed Chand was on the verge of being selected for the senior Indian team. Following the Under-19 World Cup, he was picked to represent India A. He was on fire and contributed to the win over New Zealand A and Bangladesh A. Everything was going his way when he was given the opportunity to captain the India A team in 2016.
But a blip, instead of a great turnaround, happened not long after. The Delhi lad was axed from white-ball cricket. He questioned the management and was told that he needed to stay fit to play for the senior Indian team. As a result of this axing, he was unable to secure an IPL contract in 2017 and was later dropped from the India A and Ranji sides.
The year 2016 proved to be disastrous for Unmukt Chand. He was not selected for the IPL 2017 and did not play much cricket. He received permission from the DDCA (Delhi District Cricket Association) to play Ranji from Uttarakhand. He was demoted from captaincy after failing to impress the Uttarakhand management.
He decided to retire from Indian cricket due to a lack of opportunities for him in India.
But while not every cricketing tale becomes a fairy tale, it does not mean that some tales cannot manifest into something meaningful, bigger after a prolonged wait.
Before announcing his retirement, he travelled to the United States in search of better conditions and opportunities. Later, he decided to retire from Indian cricket and signed a three-year contract with Minor League Cricket—the national T20 league in the USA. The former U-19 India captain became the country’s first Big Bash League player. He was picked by the Melbourne Renegades but played two games only in his debut season.
It could be said, Unmukt Chand’s cricketing road may have been one that was punctuated by several speedbreakers but it did eventually hit throttle on the highway. Rather make it the freeways of the US!
One hopes that the dashing right-hander can truly come into his own in what lies ahead.
I met him once and had no idea he would represent a country other than India. He is a believer, a dreamer, and a passionate individual. He still has at least ten years of cricket left in him at the age of 29. He hopes to play at the international level soon. An underappreciated and unlucky champion succumbed to politics and bad luck.