The quintessential ‘next big thing in Indian cricket’ is no longer associated with Indian cricket. Unmukt Chand, who shot to fame by leading the country to a then record third Under-19 World Cup title in 2012, is now settled in San Francisco.
The 28-year-old Delhi opener made his resignation to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) public on August 13, the same day Minor League Cricket’s (MLC) Silicon Valley Strikers announced their newest recruit.
Echoing the shockwaves Unmukt Chand’s decision sent around India, he conceded that he didn’t even consider this option four months back. It was only a recce to the States, and the ensuing comprehension of the cricket there, that convinced Unmukt Chand to shift base.
But it wasn’t just that; there is an uncomfortable backdrop too. Unmukt Chand didn't fail to realise his childhood dream of donning the senior India jersey.
No, it was the system that failed him.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Chand reiterated the ongoing nightmarish politics in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), which wrongfully backed players and repeatedly leaving him on the bench.
Unmukt Chand traversed a full circle – he got dropped from Delhi in the 2017/18 season, plied his trade for Uttarakahand in 2019/20 and came back to his home state for the 2020/21 season – only to see nothing has changed.
The 2017 misdeeds in Delhi cricket also coincided with an IPL franchise asking Unmukt Chand to quit the Mumbai Indians, promising him gametime. He obeyed, but guess what? He remained unsold in the auction that year.
However, Unmukt Chand’s career will be remembered for more than just his ‘what could have beens’. After showcasing his credentials almost two years before the World Cup triumph, after impressing IPL franchises at a raw age, after leading India A with distinction, after amassing 9,449 runs and 18 hundreds and 53 fifties in Indian professional cricket, Unmukt Chand can look back at his career with satisfaction.
But his story also reinforces the idea that talent and hard work alone cannot guarantee success in Indian cricket.
Unmukt Chand last captained India A in a tri-series in 2015 featuring Australia A and South Africa A. He led his side to victory, defeating Usman Khawaja’s Aussies in the final by 4 wickets. He finished the tournament with 235 runs at an impressive average of 47.
Every single member of that playing XI went on to play for India, except for Unmukt Chand.
Excerpts from Unmukt Chand’s exclusive interview with Sportskeeda:
SK: How are you? When did you move to San Francisco?
Unmukt Chand: I am good. I have been in the US for three and half months now.
SK: How did August 13 go for you? How many messages and calls did you receive?
Unmukt Chand: [chuckles] I am still getting messages and calls. So you can imagine the amount of bombarding my phone has been facing.
SK: Have you come to terms with your decision yet?
Unmukt Chand: Yeah, it’s sinking in now. Now that I have already given my resignation, so I am more at peace in a way that I am now thinking straight about where I actually got to focus on. It’s pretty straightforward what I need to do. Before this it was a bit difficult, but there is no looking back now.
SK: You mentioned in your farewell note that you couldn’t figure out the perfect beginning to it. When did this thought of retirement first come to mind, and how did you convince yourself about it?
Unmukt Chand: The reasons of coming to the US, when I came three months back, I had come with a very open mind. Obviously I had the offer, but you know, I wanted to first see how things are in the US. Because I wanted to see the ground reality of what’s happening in the US, what the prospects are, how things are going.
So I came here, I sort of toured around the country, I played few games here and there, visited couple of States. And then once I had a proper understanding of the cricket in the US, I saw there is good opportunity, then eventually I came to a conclusion.
SK: When you say ‘opportunity’, do you mean gametime, which you couldn’t get in India?
Unmukt Chand: Well yeah, the last couple of years have been a bit tough on me. Last season, I didn’t get a single game for Delhi. And then again the same regime, I didn’t know whether I’ll get a game again or not. There were so many ‘if nots’, concerns with the domestic cricket in India right now.
So I didn’t want to go through the same process, it was a mental torture for me to see myself sitting out and xyz playing the games, who I wouldn’t even consider in my club teams. These things happen and the whole purity goes away. It just didn’t make sense and I just didn’t want to waste anymore time thinking whether these guys will play or not.
So when these things start happening, you are just not into it then. Obviously I have got limited number of years and I got to play good cricket, and staying in limbo is a very, very bad place to be in.
SK: Was not getting a single game for Delhi in the 2021 Vijay Hazare Trophy the final nail in the coffin?
Unmukt Chand: 100 percent. I knew about things happening everywhere else but I never thought about this, but then yeah it just made me come and see how things are [in the US]. Because as it is nothing was happening in India, there was lockdown, so there was no cricket happening.
But then yeah, after that last season, it was really terrible to be very honest. I didn’t want to live it again. That was it.
SK: Why USA? Why have so many players - including Corey Anderson and your former teammates Smit Patel and Harmeet Singh - decided to move that way?
Unmukt Chand: Corey was already here. And that also helped me make a decision when you see players of validation being here. After that I came here. Harmeet was here already, so were a couple of other guys, so it’s a good opportunity here, good stuff happening. You want to be part of a setup where you feel that good things are on the way.
SK: You have a three-year contract right now, yeah?
Unmukt Chand: Yeah, the visa is valid for three years for everyone as of now.
SK: Will this contract allow you to participate in leagues around the world?
Unmukt Chand: Yes, I can opt for that. It’s only the timeframe, you know ICC rules, you have to spend 10 months in a year to qualify for the country. So I got to spend 10 months every year in the US, for the next three years. After that I qualify to play for the country, and I am all free.
Then I can play as many leagues as possible, but for next three years, I can be out of the country for just two months every year. So that means I have to choose my leagues wherever I want to play.
SK: When you were within the ambit of the BCCI and couldn’t participate in any of the foreign leagues, which one interested you the most?
Unmukt Chand: I never thought of that because till the time I was with BCCI, my mind never got there. Obviously as a cricketer you want to play as much cricket as possible, so you want to play as many leagues as possible, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference where you play.
So I wasn’t thinking along those lines then. But now that I am free to play any leagues, I’ll be playing them in the coming months.
SK: I spoke to you earlier and you mentioned a quote, "I'd rather be optimistic and wrong than be pessimistic and right." Do you feel staying with BCCI and DDCA was being pessimistic?
Unmukt Chand: BCCI has been very kind to me, but state cricket has been an issue. I mean every other state has been having this problem, right? We all know, with Delhi cricket it has always been there, now it’s on its all-time high. So that is sad when these things are happening in state cricket, when at the other end, international cricket is going so well for India.
And here state associations are misusing the whole thing, which is sad. You see anyone coming in and playing without any qualification, background, so Delhi really got to me. But otherwise, I have always had a good time with BCCI.
SK: You mentioned, "a part of me is not at peace with the way things have unfolded in the last few years". But you also wrote you chose to see the silver lining. What was that silver lining?
Unmukt Chand: This move is a silver lining. As I said before, playing in Delhi was like being in a limbo, not knowing whether they’ll give me a chance, there was no point. I had to move somewhere in life, and also it’s about setting goals.
When you have goals in mind, as a cricketer when you are playing any domestic cricket for the sole aim of playing for the country, then it’s good and healthy. But if you are practising so hard and then you don’t even know whether you’ll play or not – not because you didn’t perform in the trial games and all those things, but because you didn’t have certain contacts, certain backing, certain associations with people – that is something which really hurt me.
Four months back if you had asked me, I’d never even thought about it. But now it has happened, so it’s a silver lining. God opens up new pathways which eventually lead you to many different ways.
SK: You played your first match for the Silicon Valley Strikers on August 14. How has it been since then?
Unmukt Chand: We won both the games, the next match is this Saturday. In US, games happen only on Saturdays and Sundays – similar format as Major League Baseball and Basketball.
SK: You have seen the highs and lows of Indian cricket. Do you have any suggestions to improve cricket in the country in general?
Unmukt Chand: In our country, it’s a problem of plenty. It’s again a difficult task for the BCCI, so many players are playing – it’s a huge pool of players, umpires, coaches – how much can they also monitor? I think it’s high time BCCI should start yearly contract system, that is what is being followed all over the world. It gives the players a little bit of stability because there are both red-ball and white-ball players.
If a white-ball player plays all the games, he might earn 6-7 lakh rupees. Again it’s nothing. That too if you all play the games. If you are a T20 specialist, you earn only 1-2 lakh rupees in an entire season. If you are a days' player, then you do earn a bit more.
But again, if you get injured, if you play 3-4 games and aren’t employed anywhere else, it’s a very iffy situation for any cricketer to be in. Because there is no financial stability to hold on to, if performances don’t go well or you get injured or whatever reasons.
So it’s high time a contract system should be introduced where at least players depending on their pay grade, number of matches and all those things, get a yearly contract which makes their life easier and probably they can focus on what is important for now and not worry too much about money, IPL contracts etc.
SK: But things are unlikely to change immediately. So any piece of advice to budding cricketers on how they can stay grounded, how they can cope with various pressures?
Unmukt Chand: I know when we are growing up, money holds a certain relevance. When you see at the other end your IPL buddies getting a lot of money, and if you are playing domestic and not getting lot of money, then the focus is on getting selected for the IPL. So then you might also mess up with your cricket because your whole approach changes.
So it’s a matter of having a long-term approach, having a vision, which obviously is difficult for everyone to have.
But then it’s important to think long-term, that is what is going to stay with you for a longer time than short-term goals and profits. So if these things get figured, then eventually you become a better player and other things also automatically come in your laps.
SK: Your top 3 moments from your cricketing journey so far?
Unmukt Chand: The India Under-19 victory has to be there. Then, my first 151 against Railways at Roshanara Ground in my debut season. And then, probably getting dropped from Delhi in the Vijay Hazare of 2017 season, when I was leading India A and getting runs and everything.
I was playing a North Zone T20 game, and I get dropped from the Delhi side. And within a week’s time, I don’t get an IPL contract. So that week in particular sort of ripped me apart. These are the three most impactful such instances.
SK: Finally, you previously told me, "Time will come again, and I will be there because the will is there". And the track you’ve uploaded also says the same thing: "Ruk jaana nahin". Now that you are in a better headspace, do you feel that ‘will’ has increased manifold?
Unmukt Chand: The will was always there. It is just that the venues have changed, cricket is the same. Yes emotional attachments are obviously there, but also the fact that cricket has become very global makes it a bit easier. Because so much of franchise cricket has been happening with the IPL and all, the world is more connected nowadays as compared to what it was few years back.
But obviously, playing for country is playing for country – nothing can replace that feeling of playing for India for me. So how much ever I say, huge emotional connect is definitely going to be there.