Unmukt Chand seeks a niche

India U-19 captain Unmukt Chand talks about the Asia Cup, his personal form and more, in an exclusive chat with ESPNSTAR.com.

By Sahil Malhotra

Unmukt Chand has added to the list of many future Indian stars that have made it big from this very stage – the Indian Under-19 squad.

The Under-19 Asia Cup, which concluded in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, saw India and Pakistan share honours after the final ended in a tie.

It was good to see Unmukt lead from the front in almost all the matches in the tournament, reaching levels of excellence with his endurance and fine batting skills.

India played Pakistan on two occasions in the U-19 Asia Cup and both matches went down to the wire. The teams were so evenly matched that there was hardly anything separating them, both in the group fixture and the final.

There were whispers that it was the pressure of playing the arch-rivals which led to India losing the plot in the final over and handing over a tie to Pakistan. Unmukt strongly refuted any such thing.

“We took it as another game and didn’t add any sort of pressure,” Unmukt told ESPNSTAR.com from Kuala Lumpur. “We were looking forward to have fun in the middle. We played them (Pakistan) in the group fixture, so there was no added pressure on us.”

The captain had an ordinary start to the tournament but made it count in the crucial encounters. He registered back-to-back tons in the semi-final and the final of the tournament. The dashing Delhi opener, despite ordinary performances in the early stages, knew that a big knock was round the corner.

“I was playing well against Nepal and Malaysia. I got starts but didn’t convert them into big scores. I am happy that it happened in the semi-final and final,” he said.

One intriguing fact about this India U-19 unit is that the squad has been practically unchanged for all the tournaments they have played so far. To Unmukt, it was a very important factor in the teams’ success.

“The best part has been that we are the same group of boys playing together. We know each other well and are gelling well as a unit. It is just like one big happy family,” said the India U-19 skipper.

“We enjoy music together, dance and keep the atmosphere very friendly. Harmeet Singh is one character in the team who is very fun-loving,” quipped Unmukt.

Apart from the players, there are a few others who invest all their effort to keep the boys in shape, both mentally and physically. Unmukt was eager to pay tribute to the coaching staff.

“Let me tell you that our coaching staff is absolutely brilliant,” he stressed. “Right from our coaches to the trainers to the physios, all work really hard on us.

“They are the ones who keep motivating us to do well in the middle. We want to perform for them and not let their efforts go in vain. They are our real motivators,” he added.

Unmukt is not putting a foot wrong and everything is falling in place for the stylish batsman. With runs piling up, the opener might be in contention for the T20 World Cup to be held in Sri Lanka in September.

“Well, that is looking too far beyond. I don’t think too far ahead. Right now I am focussed on the U-19 World Cup and will be on its preparation soon,” assured the Delhi Daredevils opener.

India are placed in a relatively easy group in the U-19 World Cup with Zimbabwe, the West Indies and Papua New Guinea. Unmukt is not getting carried away by this and is focused on doing the job.

“We will not underestimate any side and will not be complacent about any of them,” concluded a focussed skipper.

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