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'Unmukt was always focused and clear that he wanted to play cricket'

Last updated on: August 29, 2012 09:05 IST

'We were surprised by the reaction to India U-19 team's victory'

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Priyanka

India Under-19 captain Unmukt Chand's parents trace the rise of their son in an interview with Rediff.com's Priyanka.

The bookshelf in Unmukt Chand's room is decorated with the autobiography of Rahul Dravid, a book called Simply Fly by Captain Gopinath, an Ayn Rand book and The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearly. These are not kept merely for show, as the India Under-19 captain's father Bharat Chand Thakur points out.

"I also want him to read What Sports Tell About Life by Ed Smith, and Nietzsche's Thus spoke Zarathustra," adds Bharat Chand.

On one side of the room is the photograph of a seven-year old Unmukt in full gear and, on the other, a collage of pictures from the National Cricket Academy, his two closest friends from Modern school, Delhi's Ranji team and the Under-16 team he was part of.

Somewhere hidden in the cupboards are 20-odd bats that Unmukt purchased over the past 11 years, practicing on school playgrounds, at inter-state matches, in Ranji Trophy and IPL matches.

"There were about 40 bats and I didn't know what to do with them. Hence, I just donated most of them when the house was renovated last year. I regret now having given most of the bats away," the shy Bharat Chand says.

He went on to elaborate Unmukt's love for the game.

"He always wanted to play cricket. It was never like we had to take him to the park for practice or to a better school because it had a cricketing academy. He took his decisions himself, we just supported him all along," he added.

Bharat Chand and his wife Rajeshwari are school teachers by profession.

As a child Unmukt often spent his vacations at his native place Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, but rarely got an opportunity to spend his whole holiday at the hill station.

"He never had long vacations because the cricket season in Delhi coincides with the summer vacations," he explained, talking about India's victorious Under-19 captain's childhood and how his love for the game grew over time. Excerpts...

What were your first feelings when your son guided the team to victory in the Under-19 World Cup final? Did Unmukt's ton surprise you, or you were expecting it?

The results of the match and Unmukt's performance did not catch us by surprise, but we were definitely surprised to see the reaction to that victory. The media, the celebrations in the apartment -- so many people came to meet us, many of whom we didn't even know, or had not been in contact with for years. The reaction was really spontaneous.


Image: Unmukt Chand (left) celebrates with teammates after winning the Under-19 World Cup on Sunday
Photographs: Getty Images

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'He took up music and cricket to keep himself occupied after study time'

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How did Unmukt stoke his passion for cricket?

Unmukt is our only child. It was pre-decided that our priority was to have just one child and then we would employ whatever resources we had for the upbringing and career of our child -- whether a boy or girl.

It was the same with my father. My father was a non-commissioned officer in the army. He did all that he could. And you can say that I am a first-generation leaner. After completing my post-graduation and a degree in Education, we came to Delhi in 1989. I was offered a job in the Directorate of Education in 1990, the same year I got married. Unmukt was born in the March of 1993.

In the initial years, we understood that he needs to be able to play continuously for some time. The coaches also were of the opinion that nothing could be categorically said about his cricketing future until he reached the age of 15 or 16. Hence, we just let him play. We were also in no great rush and his education was also a priority.

I was more nervous during the time we were enrolling him in nursery school. And when he got admission into Delhi Public School, Noida, it was great relief, the same kind which we experienced yesterday. The feeling was that now he is in a good school.

But when he used to come back from school in the afternoons, I wanted him to pursue a hobby.

Humko yeh mauka nahi mila tha (we never had the opportunity). And I realise the importance of having a hobby. Life mein bade lows aate hai, and at that time hobbies really help. 

Only studying all the time is a boring thing; we looked at what he could do after his study hours. We let him join a music class next door, when he was barely six years old. During the same time, a neighbour told me that Unmukt had a good grip on the bat; maybe he had broken a neighbour's glass. That is when we first started looking for ways where he could play some cricket and hone his skills.


Image: Unmukt Chand
Photographs: Getty Images

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'Unmukt was always focused and clear about playing cricket'

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Unmukt started playing very early. What was his daily schedule like?

(Unmukt's mother replies) When he was six-years-old, he used to wake me or his dadi (grandmother) up, (the family lives in a joint set-up) and would ask us to serve tea to his father and chacha (paternal uncle) so that they could take him to the park to play.

It was not like we had to take him to the park, he would always insist on going. At times, if it had rained or it was foggy, we had to take him to park for him to see that it was not possible to play. He was self-driven. We had to listen to him.

He had so much energy. Right from childhood he started his day early. Waking his up in the mornings was never a problem. He would never throw tantrums like other children do.

We have not known what a holiday is like in our household. Even as a child, I never pampered him with cookies or other things that children buy; I don't even know what they are, because I have never had to buy them for Unmukt. He rarely had junk food, only Maggi on Fridays (smiles) because he knew right from the start that he had to be strong from within.

He was always focused; right from the start it was clear that he wanted to play cricket. He chose to go Modern School, because he knew it could provide a good cricketing infrastructure. He cleared the written test on merit.


Image: Unmukt Chand
Photographs: Getty Images
Tags: OUnmukt

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'Being good at studies also enhanced his leadership qualities'

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How did he perform academically?

He was very good at studies. He never put his studies at stake and I never let him miss school. He has always stood second uptil class eight and we liked it because it would always make him work harder, not complacent. Even while playing matches in the IPL and other domestic tournaments he scored 84 per cent in class 10 and 74 percent in class 12 Board exams. 

I think being good at studies also enhanced his leadership qualities. He keeps a dairy and can express himself well. I see a good communicator in him.

He is very punctual. Luckily, we have never really had health problems with him. Children are prone to common cold, but not Unmukt.

I still remember, when he was class six, he would come back from school, cook rice for himself, eat it and go to practice even though I used to keep food on the dining table. He has always been very independent.

The journey from competing in inter-school tourrnaments and then reaching the Under-16 and Under-19 stages must have been a testing experience for you'll?

Yes, after he joined Modern School, he played inter-school matches within the Delhi region. When Unmukt was 13 we thought he should to try to get into the Under-15 teams but it was very competitive. It was the first time that he faced bowlers from down south, and he told me that it was the first time he experienced a tough bowling spree.

We spoke to a few coaches, who suggested that he must play at the state level. State level ka game kuch aur hi hota hai (state level games are altogether different) , we were told, and it was quite true.

Anyway, he was not able to make it to the Under-15 team in the first attempt, and we coached him against state players then. Luckily, he was selected for an inter-zonal competition, which was good exposure for him. He was eventually selected for Under-15 team the next year.

He was lucky to be part of a training camp organised by Bishen Bedi with whom he first travelled to Dharmshala for a month-and-a-half, and later to Australia for a three-week training program. I think wearing full gear, and batting in a stadium with thousands of spectators in a foreign land, must have boosted his confidence.


Image: Unmukt Chand's father Bharat Chand Thakur
Photographs: Getty Images

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'There's still a long way to go for him'

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What was the experience like when he was first picked for the IPL?

I remember, he was called to play in his first-ever IPL match just a day after he appeared for his class 12th Board exams. It was a big day for us, and I remember seeing him nervous when I drove him to the hotel in Delhi, where the team had assembled. His hands were sweating in an AC car!

But it was his first match, and he later confided that he was more worried about his Modern School mates in the crowd than Malinga's bowling in the match (laughs).

He played only two IPL matches -- against Kings XI Punjab and RCB. There's still a long way to go for him.

I used to get worried when he didn't get selected initially for the Under-15 teams, and I knew there was tremendous competition to figure in the list of the Under-19, but Bediji [Bishen Singh Bedi] had once said to me that Unmukt has talent, and they won't be able to ignore him for long.


Image: Unmukt Chand
Photographs: Getty Images

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