MLC 2024

The Unmukt Chand story reaches another inflexion point

Unmukt Chand scored a crucial half-century in LAKR's win over TSK.
Unmukt Chand scored a crucial half-century in LAKR's win over TSK. ©Sportzpics

"Been a while since I have sat here," said Unmukt Chand in a self-deprecating manner while looking at the speaker's chair in the press conference room. The Los Angeles Knight Riders batter exuded an air of calm after lighting up MLC 2024's opening night with a sparkling innings of 68 from 45 deliveries in a win over the Texas Super Kings.

It was the calm on the outside after battling a storm within for days. Chand was crestfallen after he was overlooked from the USA squad for the just-concluded T20 World Cup. After all, he had put his nose to the grindstone to live the World Cup dream he saw with starry eyes since the time he set foot in America. What was billed as a great redemption story eventually failed to take off.

"That wasn't an ideal situation to be in. Because personally for me, this was what I had dreamed for the last three years. Obviously, it was a big shock. And it took me time to sort of come to terms with it. It's never easy as a player, having lost all those things back home in India, to having this one goal, which had kept me going for the last three years not happening. So it is difficult. I won't say which just happened. But it was difficult. I was not my best self for some time," said Chand.

However, the 31-year-old was at his best with the willow in hand in Dallas. Despite LAKR being in a spot of bother losing back-to-back wickets in the third over, Chand got off the blocks rapidly. It took him a matter of three deliveries to stamp his authority at the crease, carting around Naveen Ul Haq for three boundaries in as many balls, including an enterprising pull shot that soared over the fence. In further evidence to the touch he found himself in, he kept peppering the straight boundaries with a couple of sixes against Gerald Coetzee and Marcus Stoinis.

The innings felt like he was rediscovering his pious love for batting, a Friday night tryst that even rendered him oblivious to milestones along the way. It took a delayed announcement from the stadium's PA announcer about the half-century for Chand to raise his bat and accept the plaudits. So consumed he was by the larger task on hand that he was completely unaware of the very moment he would have manifested on his arduous road to redemption. There were also times in the innings when he'd fling his arms in disbelief with every passing wicket at the other end, another indication of how his own runs were an afterthought for a man who found himself on the edge weeks back.

"That was a very internal battle and it's a sucker basically. It keeps sucking you inside and inside," he said about his initial struggles to come to grips with his broken World Cup dream. "That feeling would linger on for a day and then go away and then come back again. The reality would hit me in different phases. Once you keep going through that automatically you keep getting better. There comes a time when you're like it didn't happen, that's it. I'm not even thinking about it."

Unmukt Chand was at his free-flowing best against TSK
Unmukt Chand was at his free-flowing best against TSK ©BCCI

After a string of low scores against Canada in their tour games in April, Chand found himself at his wit's end. He went back to the drawing board. He decided to go back under the tutelage of his childhood coach Sanjay Bhardwaj at his academy. Away from the disquiet he chipped away fine-tuning his craft in rural Madhya Pradesh. His day would begin with a 6am yoga and meditation session, followed by some physical training and a couple of hours of batting in the nets. After a mentoring session with Bhardwaj in the afternoon, Chand would come back into the nets in the evening to bat away until the sunset.

"Daba k practice kari maza aya," (I practised fervently, it was fun) exclaimed Chand, recalling his time in India. Your child coach knows you more than anything else and he understands your game more than anyone else. So it's always good to go back to your roots and those small things which he picks up, no one else can pick up because people can talk about other things, but he will pick the real me, he knows the real me.

"He brought out the 16-year-old me who used to bat with a particular approach, the game I used to play back then so he understands me more from a very psychological and emotional standpoint. He understands how I behave and do things. He got me back to who I am."

Chand also pointed out how he was influenced by the way the Kolkata Knight Riders went about their business in the IPL this year. He admits to taking a leaf out of their book and worked on being 'brave' during the match simulations in the Knight Riders camp with the help of Ryan Ten Doeschate.

"If you look at KKR, the way they have played this year in the IPL, you could see there was a certain intent behind the way they have played. So you want to bring that to the table, you want to make sure that you're always pressing and in that positive zone, because the game has become like that. So, I was just being brave enough to take those chances out there today."

It was a Kishore Kumar melody from the 1970s, 'Ruk jana nahi tu kahi haarke' (Don't stop after defeat), that Chand chose for the background score of his Instagram montage that announced his India retirement. The song, is in some ways, a microcosm of his story.

"I don't know whether this is Chand 2.0 or 3.0 or 4.0," he chuckled when asked if this knock was a seminal event. His flame still burns bright and it would seem the Unmukt Chand story has more chapters to come.

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