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Unmukt, Harmeet making the best use of this Ranji season

Chand had two ordinary seasons in the first-class circuit and was dropped from the Delhi team last year, and Mumbai's selectors ignored Harmeet during the same period.

Wisden India Staff |February 16, 2015, 12:28 PM IST
Unmukt, Harmeet making the best use of this Ranji season

It is unlikely that either of Unmukt Chand or Harmeet Singh, who have both had a topsy-turvy rides since lifting the Under-19 World Cup together in Townsville in 2012, would admit in public that success at an early age has hung around their necks like an albatross. But a look at their graphs since that breakthrough moment is evidence of the inhibitions they have had to live with.

Chand had two ordinary seasons in the first-class circuit and was dropped from the Delhi team last year, and Mumbai's selectors ignored Harmeet during the same period. While Chand continued to throw his wicket away after getting starts, Harmeet, aggrieved by the lack of opportunities, signed up with Vidarbha but retracted his services without actually spending any time with his new team. His name was also dragged into the spot-fixing controversy that marred the 2013 Indian Premier League, before being cleared.

Just when it looked like they would be lost in the maze, Chand and Harmeet have used the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy to resurrect their careers and contributed to their teams' cause. Chand's three centuries have taken his tally of runs in one season beyond 500 for the first time, and his runs have contributed towards making Delhi one of the title favourites. And Harmeet, who was included in Mumbai's must-win penultimate league encounter against Baroda, has picked up 11 crucial wickets in two matches, including his first six-wicket haul, against defending champions Karnataka that helped his team gain a slender 22-run first-innings lead and qualify for the knockouts.

More assured of their positions in the scheme of things now, the two will face off for the first time at this level in the quarterfinal clash between Delhi and Mumbai at DRIEMS College Ground in Tangi, on the outskirts of Cuttack, starting Monday (February 16).

Chand's claim to fame, of course, was that he scored an unbeaten century in the successful chase in the final against Australia, and led India to that Under-19 World Cup title. He would later go on to author a book on the sojourn - 'The Sky is the Limit'. Harmeet, on the other hand, was India's most economical bowler in that tournament. Ian Chappell was so impressed by the duo's talent that he advocated their inclusion in the senior national team immediately.

Chappell's comments generated a lot of interest, and for no fault of theirs, Chand and Harmeet were imprisoned in that prism. The scrutiny on the two of them, both in their early 20s now, has been immense. That they absorbed expectations, accepted reality, took fresh stock and fought back instead of withering away is a show of great temperament.

The notion that Under-19 success is easily replicable at the highest level has consumed many careers, but Harmeet, having experienced both sides of the coin in a very short span, clarified matters beneath the surface.

"It takes time for transition, and the player has to be backed for a few seasons unconditionally. Even Virat Kohli needed a few years after his Under-19 success to flourish," the left-arm spinner told Wisden India. "You grow up watching the big players on the television and suddenly you are playing with them. You are bound to be overawed, as you initially don't know how to approach them. It reflects in your body language. But once they become your friends, you bring the same confidence that was a part of you at the Under-19 level and, if you are good with your skills, performances automatically start showing up."

"Under-19 success is the stepping stone to get to the highest level, and if you use it well, it always works in your favour. It is a matter of how much time you are willing to spend on your game after that success and how well you cope with the fame you get."

Harmeet didn't lose focus during the time he was out of contention. Instead, he picked up the nitty-gritties of his art from Bishan Singh Bedi and Narendra Hirwani, his coach at Air India. They asked him to toughen up mentally because in the Twenty20 age, a spin bowler needs to be brave enough to bounce back after being hit for a six.

Chand, too, worked on the mental aspect of his game, focussing on creating a routine for his batting where the approach shifted from getting tempted to play shots early in the innings to "grafting" for runs.

"With Unmukt the issue is more mental than technique. Sometimes he is in a frame of mind that he can tackle anything, but sometimes he makes things difficult for himself with wrong shot selection," said Vijay Dahiya, Delhi's coach. "We wanted to create an atmosphere in the dressing room where you only talk about what you are doing here rather than thinking too far. That's what Unmukt is doing well right now, focussing on his batting now rather than thinking of anything else (aspirations to represent the country)."

Credit for that goes to Rudy Webster, the psychologist, who has helped Chand with visualisation exercises and meditation techniques - the two have been interacting online for a while now. Chand also picked up the importance of self-belief as a batsman from Vivian Richards during their time together in the Delhi Daredevils franchise.

A flamboyant batsman, Chand's abilities were never in question, it was always his lack of application that raised eyebrows. Having realised that himself now, he has simplified his batting mantra to: "I just want to play with a free mind. That brings a lot of good performances."

He could well be echoing Harmeet's thoughts.

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 5211 116
2 New Zealand 3959 110
3 Australia 4320 108
4 England 5253 105
5 South Africa 3537 98
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6967 124
2 India 7939 118
3 New Zealand 5347 116
4 South Africa 5602 112
5 Australia 5915 110
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 8926 270
2 Australia 7815 269
3 England 6407 267
4 India 12141 264
5 South Africa 6220 259
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