When India lost their opening fixture against the West Indies U-19 side in the 2012 World Cup, no one expected them to fight back and book a date with Australia in the final. Amidst the chaos, India had unearthed several talents but the form of their skipper, Unmukt Chand was the biggest worry. Leading into the final, Chand had scores of 4, 0, 31 but the entire country’s trust and focus were on him, with a hope that another Delhi youngster could lead them to another glory.
While the stars aligned in his favour, with a scintillating unbeaten 111 against Australia in the final, it was only on Friday, August 13th that the 28-year-old reportedly decided to swap that star for another, the 50 stars of the United States of America. The desi Delhi boy who had lived until now to swear by the country had called it a day to seek pastures in a country miles away.
His career in the country never took off, even with the 111, even with the star-struck fans at the airport that he was overwhelmed by. The cricketer, who was once dearly compared to Virat Kohli is now going to play cricket in the United States of America, after a failed stint with Uttarakhand. He gave up on a career that will always remain unfulfilled, even when his confidence was unadulterated in the youth.
But being in his shoes wasn’t easy, after capturing the glory of the U-19 World Cup, he was thrown into the deep end of the Indian domestic circuit, where reputation was thwarted by performances and glories were buried in the colours before donning the whites. Runs had dried up, the reputation was on the last straw and everything in between was in shambles. Four years on from the jubilation, Unmukt met with the humiliation, having been dropped from the state setup. His career oscillated in between, neither at Delhi nor with the Mumbai Indians. A year after having moved from the Delhi Capitals (Daredevils then), a first-ball duck at the hands of Brett Lee definitely did not shatter him as much as being caught in the middle of a fight.
Despite leading the India A side, there was no guarantee that his state, the place he grew up holding that cricket bat, would back him. Even the backing of Gautam Gambhir proved to be brittle and in the span of a few days, his entire life came crumbling down. It was a sequence of play that a Jenga fan could very well relate to, the highs and the lows in the span of a few touches.
Being talented in India might have certainly guaranteed players a place in the XI in the past but in a country that has cricketers growing in numbers, his opportunities were fading away even before he could completely visualise it. From the riches of being cheered by the fans, his career and opportunities were thrown onto the streets. He wasn’t on the verge of bankruptcy financially but on the cricketing level, his funds were slowly evaporating. Even the switch to Uttarakhand didn’t aid his career, it only made the matters worse - from being a nifty player in Delhi, his career dropped down, and he had no choice but to turn the bats for columns and microphones.
As an IPL star, his stardom found no real buyers, after 21 matches, 300 runs and a strike rate of 100. His First-Class record never lived up to his potential, with an average of 31.57, which drastically was reduced to 13.92 during the 2019-20 season with Uttarakhand. And to follow that, he couldn’t quite adapt to the fast-paced T20 cricket, where he was striking it at 116.
"I don't know how I should be feeling cause honestly, I am still figuring it out. The very thought of not being able to represent my country again literally stops my heartbeat for a while,” Unmukt wrote upon announcing his decision to retire.
The challenges of life are such that, in the short span of time, two U-19 winners, Smit Patel and Unmukt had to find other pastures to make a livelihood. While Smit, with an average of 39.49 still represented Baroda before his move, the Delhi batsman had fallen under the radar, with even Uttarakhand not being able to offer him a second life.
“You know, all sportspersons—even the really great ones—live a life of fear. Fear of failure; fear of good form going away; fear of everything you have built comes crashing down. So, when I did hit my rock bottom in 2017, it was a weight off my shoulders. I told myself, ‘Bhai, isse zyaada kya hoga?’(What else could possibly go wrong?),” Unmukt had said candidly in an interview for the Hindustan Times.
His career in his own thrills took off at a pace that there was always a question of what would happen when the car comes crashing down. Would he sustain the damage or would it leave him in shatters? Having uttered, ‘Bhai, isse zyaada kya hoga’ in 2019, Unmukt was still ‘mukt’ in the shadows of his teammates and his juniors.
But in 2021, nine years after that day that transformed his career, Unmukt Bharat Thakur Chand was finally living true to his name, he was ‘free’ to make a choice and after being on the edge for a while, he has finally figuratively and literally decided to take off.