A scaly white patch makes itself visible on Unmukt Chand’s nape as he moves his neck torsionally, taking in the limited audience of three he has to address before leaving for the Under-19 World Cup in Australia.
“I was wearing a chain, but there was some allergic reaction on the skin so I took it off,” says India’s Under-19 captain, rubbing the shiny lesion with his fingers, brandishing in the process a heap of rakhis tied untidily to the wrist.
Possibly the most exciting young batting talent in the country, the 19-year-old from Delhi is a picture of poise as he tackles questions on the huge expectations from India’s Under-19 squad, the precedent that has been set by former juniors such as Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli, and how his team plans to overcome the setback of losing key players to injuries right before the commence of the big event.
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Unmukt and the entire squad, under the watchful eyes of coach B. Arun, spent the past month in Bangalore, undergoing team-building exercises, playing practice games (one of which witnessed the return to action of Yuvraj Singh), and shaping up for the World Cup.
The team is scheduled to leave via Mumbai for Australia, where the tournament begins on August 11.
Excerpts from the interaction:
On the camp: “It was really good. We have played in Australia and so we knew the things we had to work on. We tried to address the gaps that (we) came across in the last three-four tournaments and tried to strengthen our basics.”
On the practice matches: “It is important to get into the match groove before a big tournament like the World Cup. Many of us got into the groove – some scored well, some took wickets. It helped us analyze things and we learnt a few good lessons. It was more about giving a chance to everyone.”
On losing attacking batsman Manan Vohra to a finger injury: “It was really unfortunate on his part and for the team as well to miss out on such a big tournament. That’s how life is. We need to take it in our stride. (Hanuman) Vihari has come in and he’s a really good player. I guess he will fill the big shoes of Manan.”
On the pressure of expectation: “We’ve been enjoying each other’s company. We’ve always tried to rectify the errors. If we do the right things again, we will be hopeful about this tournament as well.”
On Yuvraj Singh tipping him and Vohra as the players to watch out for: “It’s really inspiring when people compare me to Virat (Kohli) and all. You feel happy about it but then you have to continue scoring runs and contribute in the team’s cause. It’s all about performing well on a consistent basis.”
On the USP of the current Under-19 team: “It’s not either batting or bowling, it’s both. We have been doing well in all the three departments of the game for some time now. Batting has clicked sometimes and bowling has clicked on the other occasions. Everyone is chipping in really well. I can’t say that batting is our strength or bowling is our strength. We have chased 280 plus targets easily in some matches and have restricted opponents to 200 in the others.”
On India’s draw in the World Cup: “It’s the World Cup and we are not taking any of the teams lightly. We will try to get into the groove from the very beginning. It took some time for us to adjust in the quadrangular series (also in Australia). This time we want to grab the momentum right from the very beginning. That’s where practice matches help.”
On the burden of captaincy: “When I bat, I don’t think about captaincy at all. It’s only on the field that I think about it. You need to demarcate these two tasks. Captaincy doesn’t affects me. On the other hand, it has helped to assume more responsibility while batting. Earlier I used to be a bit casual in my approach to batting.