Unmukt Chand is the flavor of the season, having led India to their third Under-19 World Cup with an unbeaten 111 in the final against Australia to emerge as the Man of the Match. His superlative performance has drawn accolades from all quarters, not least from former Australian captain Ian Chappell who believes the 19-year-old is ready for international cricket and must be immediately drafted into the senior Indian team. Indian captain MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina are also unstinted in their praise for Unmukt, whose next assignment is the India A tour to New Zealand in September.
On his return to India, Unmukt spoke to Cricketnext about his World Cup experience, captaincy, being a 'big match' player and what lies ahead.
You captained Indian side to the glory and shone in the final. Could you have asked for anything better?
Winning the World Cup is definitely a monumental achievement. This is the most cherished moment of my career. It is obviously a great feeling to do well in the final but the whole team deserves the credit as each member of the team contributed immensely in the tournament. Without their efforts, my hundred wouldn't have served any purpose.
Your hundred in the final has been hailed as the best in U-19 cricket by cricket experts.
It is for the people and experts to decide or analyse the quality of my innings. I relished every moment while playing that innings. The final was the biggest stage of my career and I knew that such opportunities only come once in a cricketer's life. It was possibly my last U-19 match and I'm chuffed that I made it very special for myself and the team.
How important was winning the toss in the final?
The team winning the toss definitely has a slight edge but in the final, the pitch was good for batting and it remained that way throughout the day. So, the significance of toss in the final was not as big as it was in the other matches.
Three consecutive hundreds in three finals of different tournaments cannot be a fluke.
As a cricketer you want to perform in every game you play but I've been very fortunate that some of my best innings have come in the finals of tournaments. As a captain, maybe I feel an extra sense of responsibility in the final and that brings the best out of me. My objective has always been to do well, to the best of my abilities, in each game I play.
All three hundreds in finals have come while chasing. How do you pace your innings?
I was absolutely determined to do well. I had a mediocre World Cup until the final so I was keen to stamp my authority in what was possibly my last U-19 match. As I said earlier, it was the biggest stage I was playing at and I wanted to make it count. Batting in Australia, especially at Townsville, is easy when you're batting second. So I was confident that once set, a big innings was one the cards. Also, I had smashed a hundred against Australia before in the final of the quadrangular tournament in April 2012, so I knew a lot about their bowlers, their strengths and weaknesses. I knew that 225 wasn't a big total and that if I batted for 45 overs, we could easily attain the target. All these things came in handy.
In terms of stroke-play and temperament, how different or similar are you to Virat Kohli?
These comparisons are drawn by you guys. I feel good that I'm being compared with Virat as he has been doing consistently well for India and has cemented his place in the team as the fulcrum of their batting. At the moment, he's one of the best batsmen in the world. He has scored runs in all parts of the world. I sincerely wish that I could emulate his performance and measure up to the billing but I've a long way to go.
You must have been flooded by congratulatory calls and messages after the World Cup victory. Did you get a call or message from someone which pleasantly surprised you?
Just after the final, Yuvraj Singh called me and lavished praise on me. He was delighted about India's victory and congratulated me for my personal performance. A couple of days back, Suresh Raina called me and told me that the whole team was watching the final and he wished me on behalf of the whole team. That was very sweet of them.
You've been selected in the India A squad for the New Zealand tour. This is the first time you're selected in the senior Indian squad. How would you approach the tour?
The World Cup has just got over. I'll spend a couple of days with my family and will join the team camp on September 4. I'll try to play my natural game without taking too much pressure. I'm looking forward to the tour with excitement.
Ian Chappell says that you must be included in the senior Indian team without any further delay.
That is very kind of him to say that. He's a cerebral and erudite person and a great cricketer. His opinion is held in high regards but I don't think too much about these things. My focus remains to do well in what is at hand presently. I don't think too far ahead. I firmly believe that if I perform well consistently, the national call will come.
The IPL or first-class cricket, which is the gateway to Indian team?
I think modern-day cricketers must adapt themselves to all three forms. I don't give any specific preference to one format. I have always aspired to perform and shine in all formats, in every match I played whether it is IPL, first-class or U-19. I equally enjoy playing each one.