Dubai: Does the name Unmukt Chand ring a bell? It’s been exactly five years till date when Chand, then hailed as the next big thing in Indian cricket much like a Prithvi Shaw or Shubman Gill now, raised the expectations to emerge as a potential successor to Virat Kohli.
Much like Kohli, who led the Under-19 team to a World Cup triumph in 2008, Chand held aloft the winners’ trophy in the 2012 edition — scoring a 111 against Australia in the final. The boyish good looks of the Delhi youngster, combined with his strokemaking abilities, made him a natural choice for the endorsement sector with him commanding a price tag of between $110,000 to $150,000 per annum for a deal.
As the 2013 edition of IPL was about to take off, Chand — then a part of Delhi Daredevils — had six brands under his belt including a brand new Pepsi ad ‘Oh yes abhi,’ (Oh, it’s now) where he dares the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, then Indian skipper, Kohli and Rohit Sharma to lay hands over a bottle of the soft drink. All that seems many moons ago for the 24-year-old, who has been shunned by the franchises in the last IPL auction while he was dumped out of the Delhi team for a while — both in T20 as well as the Ranji squad.
Speaking soon after the IPL auction in February, Chand said in an interview that getting dropped from the state team for the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament also hampered his chances of getting a team in the auction. Incidentally, in his stints with three franchises so far — Daredevils, Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians, he could not really set the house on fire despite getting some decent starts.
“I was retained by MI for the 2017 season but because I didn’t get to play matches in the previous year, I decided to get released from the squad to find a team where I could play and not sit out, even at base price. Playing is more important than money. It was a hard decision and a big risk too, but I opted out. Unfortunately, I was dropped from the Delhi side four days before the auction, and I’m sure it didn’t send the right signal to the franchisees. I wasn’t picked,” a disappointed Chand said in a recent interview.
Speaking to Gulf News from India, his manager admitted the slump in his career and said they wanted to keep him out of media scrutiny for sometime now. “Yes, he is struggling with his career and is not doing any interviews at the moment,” said Varun Chopra of Medallin Sports, which had been managing his career since he was an youngster.
What could have gone wrong with Chand — was it a matter of wrong career choices or is it a perception problem? While he had gone on record about the politics in the Delhi dressing room behind his axe, coaches close to him have squarely blamed him for the lack of big runs to back his case. K.P. Bhaskar, the Delhi coach, said the idea behind dropping him was to bring him out of his ‘comfort zone,’ while his childhood coach Sanjay Bharadwaj was a little more charitable: “He’s a hard-working lad, but the problem is his poor conversion rate.”
Chand’s case, one feels, should help the likes of Shaw — captain of the last Under-19 World Cup triumph in New Zealand in December, Gill — Man of the Series in the World Cup campaign or the promising fast bowler Shivam Mavi help their feet on the ground. The leap from junior cricket to the next level is a huge one and fraught with uncertainties — and the glitz and glamour that IPL invites does not help the focus of a young cricketer.
Rahul Dravid, who mentored the current lot, cautioned after the triumph that the real test awaits his young players. “The challenge and the hard work really start from here, we had couple of conversation on it. When we were there, they showed a rerun of the 2012 finals and I started checking upon a few things.
“It is interesting… the result of the final is India beat Australia but six years down the line, only one of those boys has played for India while 5-6 of them went on to play for Australia.”