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My Journey to the World Cup: The Sky is The Limit
By Unmukt Chand (Penguin Books India Limited); 222 Pages; illustrated.
This is a delightful book written by a delightful young man with a bright future both as a cricketer and writer. Written mainly in diary form from the age of 12 till the time he was leading India to victory in the Under-19 World Cup in Australia in 2012 as a 17-year-old, Unmukt by my reckoning holds the record for the youngest first-class cricketer to write a book.
It was his century in the final against Australia that gave India victory in the World Cup. This followed a string of low scores in the tournament which put the captain under tremendous pressure.
Considering the last book the majority of our cricketers read was in school/college (Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman being two honourable exceptions), the cricket book reading fraternity around the world must whole-heartedly welcome this bold maiden venture by the teen prodigy. In fact the last Indian cricketer to write his own books was probably Sunil Gavaskar in the 70s and 80s.
The publishers have brought out the book under their youth imprint Inked. It is apparent they have made minimal changes in the text. The result is a book bursting with youthful exuberance and occasional naivety. Every now and then one comes across a sentence that causes one to chuckle and this is where it’s charm lies. There are rare insights into the mind of a teen cricketer with big ambitions and also into how the youth cricket system in India works.
The book gains in topicality as the Indian team, the defending champions, last month crashed out in the quarter-finals of the U-19 World Cup in Dubai.
Considering it was Virat Kohli—currently one of the cricket world’s hottest properties—who led India to victory in 2008, this tournament is seen as a stepping stone to senior domestic and eventually international cricket. Unmukt has already made an impact in his third season as an opener for Delhi in first-class cricket even though in the IPL he has not been such a success so far.
The idea of keeping a diary was given to him by his uncle and mentor Sunder Chand Thakur whom he credits for his success along with his parents and coach Sanjay Bharadwaj. Since both his parents have been teachers, a love for writing and reading was inculcated in him from a very young age. This has startled some journalists who have interviewed him-- you would be hard pressed to find words like ‘recalcitrant’ and ‘masticate’ in the vocabulary of today’s generation of sportspersons.
It is delightful to read his candid admission that he “did not understand much” of CLR James’ seminal book on race, politics and cricket, Beyond a Boundary which his father gave him “but I will, for sure, read it again once I have some grey hair.” He would do well to follow up on his promise as he grows older since the book retains its freshness even fifty years after its release.
There are other revelations, stark in their honesty or naivety if you wish, some cricket-related and some personal. Getting out cheaply against minnows Papua New Guinea in the World Cup, the captain then watched in envy as his teammates piled up runs against the weak bowling. Many professional sportspersons have felt the same way, but few if any would dare to admit as much.
Much of my fascination with this book was in understanding how a young cricketer deals with both failure and success. Unmukt’s insights in this regard are a real revelation.
The photo of Unmukt with West Indian legend Viv Richards, in his role as ‘mentor’ of IPL team Delhi Daredevils last year, is a classic. There is not just awe in the teenager’s eyes, there is adoration. In fact Sir Viv has written the book’s foreword while there is a ‘Note’ by Laxman. This year Unmukt moves to Rajasthan Royals in his fourth IPL season.
Understandably for one so young, there are some rough edges in his writing style just as there are in his batting. These are bound to be ironed out in time for Unmukt comes across as an eager learner and a youngster with a level head on his shoulders. We look forward to more runs from his bat and more books from his keyboard.
--The writer is a freelance journalist and author based in New Delhi. This article originally appeared in the Asian Age on March 23, 2014.