For Unmukt Chand and Co, the journey's just beginning

In his column on ESPNCricinfo, Ian Chappell had written about how India’s Harmeet Singh and Unmukt Chand were a class apart from the other players in the under-19 World Cup.

“He (Harmeet Singh) bowls like Bishen Bedi, with that same natural flight and guile that would right now place him as the best spin bowler in any Test side bar England,” said Chappell in his piece.

Then moving on to Unmukt he said: “He's a very talented batsman and should also be consistently plying his trade at a higher level.”

On Sunday, both the players showed just how right Chappell was.

While the Australians were batting, they had no answer to Harmeet’s guile. They looked to just play out his overs, primarily because they knew anything more would lead to their downfall. The flight, the loop, the turn of the wicket was of a very high caliber.

Unmukt hit 111 not out in the final. Getty Images

Unmukt hit 111 not out in the final. Getty Images

And when Unmukt was batting, the ease with which he cleared the boundary line showed that this level wasn’t really the challenge he was seeking. Indeed, there is a bit of Virat Kohli in him. The swagger is certainly there but he has something even Virat didn’t have in his Under-19 days – the ability to hit the big shots.

Those who have followed domestic cricket in India would remember a young Harmeet making his debut for the Mumbai Ranji team at the age of 17 in 2009. Even then coach Praveen Amre wanted to keep Harmeet away from ODIs and the shorter format of the game.

Amre was impressed with the flight and loop that the young left-arm spinner had managed to develop and feared that if he was forced into ODIs or the IPL, he would lose that ability.

Harmeet was first spotted at the age of 12 by Sandeep Patil, who recommended him to Dinesh Lad, cricket coach in Gorai's Swami Vivekananda International School (Mumbai). He later was coached at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana where he honed his skills under former Mumbai spinner Padmakar Shivalkar and former India batsman Amre, before making it to the Mumbai team.

But despite the obvious talent, Harmeet has managed to play just three Ranji games for Mumbai since 2009. And the way forward for him has to be a lot more first-class cricket. At no point must he be allowed to think that he has achieved all that he is capable of. The hard yards, for him, are just beginning.

For Unmukt too, the challenge is not at the junior level anymore. His coach is Sanjay Bhardwaj, who is also Gautam Gambhir's coach and he is on pretty good terms with Kohli, so he should know where to go for advice.

But he needs to find a way to translate his big scores at the junior level to the senior level. In the Vijay Merchant trophy last year, he compiled 232 runs in four matches and later in the North Zone U-16 team for the Hanumant Singh Trophy in Bangalore he was adjudged the 'player of the tournament' by amassing 402 runs in five games.

He's already had a taste of the IPL, he was the junior-most player in the fourth season of the IPL but that cannot and should not be his aim. He needs to play first-class cricket and India 'A' cricket.

The success stories that come out of the under-19 system are very few. First-class cricket is a very different game and many junior cricketers are not up to the challenge. And if another else that's what India's under-19 champions need to keep reminding themselves. But, of course, all that comes after a big party that awaits them when they get back home.