India vs England: Akash Deep shines in Test cricket debut in Ranchi

The Bengal paceman, who hails from Bihar’s Sasaram, is yet another classic underdog story

Akash Deep in action after dismissing Ben Duckett in Ranchi (photo: Getty Images)
Akash Deep in action after dismissing Ben Duckett in Ranchi (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Sasaram in Bihar is a place made familiar by the late politician Jagjivan Ram and its monuments, not quite the place from where one expects a pace bowler to do India proud. Yet, debutant Akash Deep just did that when he wrecked the top order of England with three quick wickets in the first session at Ranchi until Joe Root dropped anchor with a resilient unbeaten century.

But then, Indian cricket owes it to these fascinating underdog stories in recent times for their awesome assembly line — be it Akash Deep’s Bengal state mate Mukesh Kumar, Sarfaraz Khan, Dhruv Jurel, and of course, the precocious Yashasvi Jaiswal. Impressed by Deep’s ability to hit the deck at the nets and a superior pace to Mukesh, the team management decided to gamble with the 27-year-old in place of a rested Jasprit Bumrah and he came out with flying colours.

There seems to be a bit of Mohammed Shami in Akash Deep in the way he pitches the ball on the hard length and gets it to nip back off the seam — often making it straighten in the same action — much the way he induced the nick off Ben Duckett for a caught behind. He followed it up with wickets of Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley, the latter having had a reprieve earlier when he was bowled by Akash Deep ripper but it turned out to be a no-ball.

‘’I dedicate the success to my father who wanted me to do something in my life, but could not live long enough to see it. The Test cap for India was certainly a dream come true for me as my mother was at the ground today, but at the same time, I was quite conscious about the responsibility that comes with it,’’ said the Bengal bowler, whose notable performances for India A against England Lions hastened the way for a call-up in the ongoing series.

Speaking to media after the day’s play, Akash Deep revealed that it was only from 2016 onward that he took to playing cricket seriously on arriving in Kolkata. To a query on whether he tries to emulate the seam-up action of Shami, the affable bowler agreed: ‘’Yes, I try to follow Shami bhai and Kagiso Rabada.’’

His end-of-the-day figures may have taken a bit of a mauling with the old ball, but it was a momentous day for the cricket fraternity in Bengal as they now have two pacers as part of the Indian new ball attack. ‘’A common thread between the success of these newcomers likes in their grind work in domestic cricket. Ever since Akash Deep overcame an injury to make his mark for the U-23 Bengal team, he has gone from strength to strength but I must admit that it was not easy for him in the initial years,’’ said Sourashish Lahiri, the current Bengal coach who has played a major mentoring role for the bowler since his U-23 days.

Speaking to National Herald, Lahiri — once a star spinning allrounder for Bengal — recalled the support he received from erstwhile state fast bowling coach Ranadeb Bose in backing the rookie bowler with only raw pace to show. ‘’We called him at the U-23 nets but he came and said he was injured. However, we took him for a pre-season tour and our team of physios worked with him and I still remember that in his debut game against Mumbai, he picked up five wickets and 50 runs. Once his Ranji debut happened in 2019, Akash did not have to look back and played a key role in helping Bengal play two Ranji finals,’’ he said.

The journey from a remote part of Bihar to the arc lights has been a tough one so far, but with a Test cap and an IPL contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore, Akash Deep is in a good space for now. A job well begun…

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