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Unmukt Chand was the hero for the India Under 19 team as they won the World Cup.
Unmukt Chand was the hero for the India Under 19 team as they won the World Cup.

Indian cricket has a new hero in Unmukt Chand

But when his team needed it most, Chand was there, delivering the performance that American sportswriters love to call 'clutch'.

In an interview with Cricinfo before the start of the Under 19 World Cup, Unmukt Chand, India's captain, said he kept a dictionary with him all the time so that he could discover new words and learn how to use them in everyday conversation.

We cannot be sure if Chand has checked the meaning of "courage". Ernest Hemingway described it as "grace under pressure", and there was plenty of that on view yesterday as Chand led India to a third Under 19 title.

Before the final, he had made just 135 runs, in keeping with some pedestrian batting efforts from the side in bowler-friendly conditions. But when his team needed it most, Chand was there, delivering the performance that American sportswriters love to call "clutch". And it wasn't as though it was the first time either.

Two months ago, with India needing 283 to win the Under 19 Asia Cup final against Pakistan, Chand batted for all but two of the 50 overs, making 121.

His dismissal allowed Pakistan to snatch a tie, and in Townsville yesterday, he made sure there were no such concessions to an Australian side that had been the tournament's form team.

Last April, India's Under 19s had been in Townsville to play a Quadrangular tournament as part of the build-up to the World Cup. They lost all three group games and went into the semi- final against unbeaten England as rank outsiders. Chand's 94 sealed a 63-run win in a match where only one other batsman, Smit Patel, crossed 40.

In the final, after the pace of Pat Cummins, already capped by Australia at senior level, had rocked the Indian pursuit of 195, Chand made an unbeaten 112.

He hit six sixes, the same number that he would send sailing over the rope a few months later in scoring 111 as India made 227 for four to pass Australia's 225 for eight.

"It's not the first time he's terrorised us," said William Bosisto, Australia's captain, who had reprieved Chand at midwicket when he had made 84.

There is a huge gulf between Under 19 cricket and the international game, but those who follow the game in India have known about Chand for a while now.

He has played 11 first-class matches and is on the roster for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League. There are the inevitable comparisons with Virat Kohli, another Delhi boy who led the Under 19s to World Cup glory in 2008. Chand, however, has acquitted himself in far more mature fashion than Kohli did at the same age.

Being groomed for leadership has helped. "We started two years back," he said, after the 130-run partnership with Patel had taken India home. "We have 14 people from different states and now we're a team. We've played four tournaments so far and won all of them. The journey has been good."

Along the way, Bharat Arun, the coach who played two Tests for India as a medium pace bowler in the 1980s, helped him. Arun was a stalwart on the domestic cricket scene but found the transition to the highest level difficult. Having had a taste at the top table, he was well equipped to make sure that the boys did not start believing their own hype.

That India started with a loss, against the West Indies, also helped lower expectations back home before the knockout stages.

"When we lost the first game, we knew that we lost because we were defending only 167," Arun said. "But we took the positive from that, which was that they struggled to reach the target.

"That convinced us that our bowling was fine, but we needed a little consistency with the bat. We accepted the loss and focused on our batting."

And when the batsmen needed to be counted, Chand was the first to put his hand up. C for Courage. C for Clutch.

sports@thenational.ae

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