Batsman Unmukt Chand, who burst into the limelight after leading India to an under-19 World Cup win in 2012, and was anointed as the next superstar, has had a roller-coaster career in India that prevented him from making the senior India team which, due to his talent, he was expected to.
To fulfill his dream of playing senior international cricket and also play T20 leagues around the world, the 28-year-old quit BCCI cricket and has since switched to the United States of America where he has already started playing Minor League Cricket (MiLC).
The MLC is a stepping stone to Major League Cricket (MLC), which begins in 2023, and the USA national team for which he will be eligible in the next three years. Chand spoke to IANS about his career in India and plans for the future
Q: How do you look back at your career in India?
A: I have had a very good journey in India. Playing through the ranks and coming up from under-15, under-17, under-19 days to the Ranji Trophy, Indian Premier League, India A, under-19 World Cup. I mean it has been a great journey. I loved it. When I started playing cricket, I never imagined that the journey would unfold the way it did. Very lucky to have lived glorious moments along with down moments which are actually part of a career for any cricketer. Lucky to be living this life which I had never dreamt of. I am very happy to have spent so much time in India, where I was till three months back. I just don’t know anything else apart from playing cricket. Very lucky and grateful to win laurels for myself and for the teams I played in India and make a small mark in Indian cricket. I am now looking at things in the USA.
Q: When you returned from the 2012 World Cup, did you’expect you’d get to play for India soon?
A: Well. Obviously, it is a dream for anyone to play for the country. Any under-19 cricketer would want to play for the country. That is the aim and goal. It has been very tricky [for me]. I was very close to it so many times. And somehow ‘t just didn’t happen. There were lots of permutations and combinations also going on, you know. There were lot of things going on. Luck plays a great role in cricket. We all know that. You expect to play for the country. You work for it. But things go the way they are destined to and not the way we plan them. I am at peace with how my journey has been. Definitely lots of learning. Cricket has made me the person I am today. It would not have been possible had the journey been any different. ‘hat was God’s plan. So obviously, I have no regrets.
Q: Do you think a little opportunity with Indian seniors could have made a difference?
A: When you look back at the journey, you definitely feel that if you were on a tour or if you had rubbed shoulders with senior men, then things would have been differe’t. But you don’t want to be time and again thinking if this would have happened or that would have happened. It is better to live in reality. We can all think about so many things. At the end of’the day, I don’t want to go there.
Q: Do you think that games at Roshanara Club grounds (which had grassy, seam-friendly pitch and conditions) so early in’your career didn’t let you develop confidence in free stroke-play?
A: Well, it could be. Because playing at the Roshanara for the first couple of years, matches were finishing in 2-3 days. The focus was always to win games [and dismiss opposition on seam-friendly pitches to get full points]. Obviously, the batsmen d’d suffer. It wasn’t that easy to score runs. If you look at the Delhi first-class seasons over the last few years, except the one when Rishabh scored a thousand runs (972), which were mostly in neutral venues, batsmen struggled to score 500-600 runs in the entire season. I think it has got a lot to do with wickets. Obviously, we tried to take outright victories which was a good thought but whenever you go for that, it is not easy on the batsmen. Pitches having heavy grass discourage you from playing shots [freely]. Your natural instincts go away. And if you don’t perform in 2-3 matches, your mindset changes. You sort of stop playing strokes freely after you feel it is not easy. Getting out early in a couple of games when the pitches are difficult makes you want to stay on as much as possible and then it plays on your mind as well.
Q: How do you look forward to your career in the USA?
A: Well, I am really optimistic about my career shift to the US. It is a great place. I don’t feel any different. There are so many Indians around. I mean so many Indians, I can’t even tell you. It just feels like you are playing for the Indians in the US. The amount of talent in the country is huge. We have so many Indians, so many West Indians, so many players from the sub-continent here. So many players have come here. So it is really competitive. The structure needs to be worked upon. These guys are working on that. I am sure in the next couple of years, US cricket is going to prosper and you know come close to playing with the top nations in the world and also do considerably well. The hopes are really high. In a couple of years, players who have shifted like Corey [Anderson], Sami [Aslam], and others, after serving their time of three years, are going to be part of the USA set-up. I will also be eligible in three years. It is looking like a good side. Hopefully, we can all keep up with the progress. The major league is coming next year, it is definitely a booster for USA cricket.
Q: Do you think more Indian cricketers will move to the USA?
A: There is so much of an influx of players already. If you look at the US, so many players from all over the world are coming in. I can’t say about the Indian players but players are coming from all over the world right now.
Q: How much have you prepared for Major League Cricket and the ongoing Minor League Cricket?
A: There is a lot of time for Major League Cricket. Next year, you may have an exhibition sort of a series. From 2023, they are going to do an entire major league tournament. Minor League Cricket has started already. Early days for me. So obviously, there has been lots going on with settling in, shifting, new team, and all those things. I am just settling in and the team is doing well.
Q: Will you stay connected with cricket in India?
A: I am here but I am connected with India. Nowadays, cricket has become so global. In fact, the world has come so closer that you don’t feel you are anywhere else. I am so well connected with India that it still doesn’t feel to me that I have left Indian cricket. It just feels the same. It also has a lot to do with the fact there are so many Indians in the USA. It is so crowded with Indians that I don’t feel I am away from the country. And playing amongst them and being around them. The world has become a very global place.
But it doesn’t make much of a difference, whether you are here or there. It is about being the best, being a professional. For whatever team you play, especially with leagues coming up, it is about being professional. It is about doing the best for whatever team you play for. So yeah, I am looking forward to that and looking at the leagues around the world and the Minor League, the Major League, and US cricket in the next few years.