Unmukt Chand announced himself on the big stage of the under-19 cricket World Cup final as a player of class, leading his team to victory with an imperious, unbeaten 111. Chand will hope that he can follow Virat Kohli, who also led India to the World championship in Malaysia in 2008, into the big time.
Along with left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh and Manan Vohra, who was injured and did not play the under-19 CWC, but who impressed me in the series in April, India has some very promising young talent in this cohort.
According to Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”. There will come periods when these three will be challenged as they make their way in the game and it will be the courage to trust themselves and learn from experience that will decide their cricketing fate.
Not a guarantee
Success at the youth level in cricket does not guarantee success at the senior level. In fact, history shows that the majority of those who represent at the youth level do not go on to make a mark in senior cricket.
No doubt Chand’s commercial value at home will have been significantly enhanced by his match-winning performance, but it doesn’t mean he is a certainty to become the next champion.
If he thinks he has made it by succeeding at the youth level, his career may well stall before it has begun.
The critical thing for him now is that he gets the type of challenges that he needs, at the right time. Typically, those challenges relate to putting him in increasingly more demanding situations that force him to continue to develop his talents.
Generally this relates to having to face better and faster bowlers. Being able to handle consistent, quality, short-pitched bowling is, usually, the greatest challenge that one faces at the higher levels.
Chand showed great qualities in the ICC under-19 championship final. His decision-making and composure under pressure marked him as a special talent, but that talent can wilt very quickly if not nurtured properly.
The best Test players through history have debuted in their early twenties, or even earlier in the case of Tendulkar. Most of them have had a taste of the big time and have then been dropped during which time they reflect on what they need to do. The very best have then come back as better players and gone on to make their mark.
Experience tells me that the longer one stays at the lower level the less likely it is that one will make the transition. Very few players have been exceptional if they debut at the international level in their mid to late twenties.
Graham Hick is an example that shows that the earlier one debuts in Test cricket, the better.
Hick was good enough at 19 or 20 to play Test cricket but, due to his need to qualify for England after moving from Zimbabwe, he did not debut until he was 25.
By then he had an enviable first-class record that included 50 centuries. If anyone was ready for Test cricket, it would seem that he was.
That Hick played 65 Tests in a 10-year career and only just averaged over 30 runs per innings suggests that he did not live up to the hype that had surrounded him since he burst onto the first-class scene.
This is where good selection comes into play. Once a player has shown that he can cope at the first-class level and that he has a method that can succeed, the sooner he is chosen the more likely it is that he will become a player of the highest calibre.
Chand has already made it to the first-class ranks and has notched up his first century. If he is to become the next big thing in Indian cricket, it is important that the national selectors recognise him as soon as he gives them the opportunity.
Two or three more centuries at that level, if made in good style, should be enough to warrant some exposure to the best bowlers.
If that is not done, he might become one more promising youth cricketer who fails to parlay his talent into a successful international career.