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Akash Deep makes his Test debut in style

The skiddy-off-the-deck pacer claimed three quick wickets in the first hour on Day 1 to give India a big lift

It’s the entrance that will live on. Chest out, veins popping, darting in to bang the shiny red ball as hard as he possibly could, Akash Deep didn’t waste a second to be on the money. First ball, 139 kph, on length, with a hint of shape. Deep cranked it up, spraying it wide but quickly corrected his line. More nip, this time straighter, and he beat Ben Duckett’s outside edge. Next over, Zak Crawley was a fraction of a second late on an in-dipping ball. Then came the moment—beating Crawley’s defence with pace and shape, sending the off stump cartwheeling almost 15 yards. For a good five seconds or so, Deep was living the dream. Till he heard the no-ball call.

India’s Akash Deep and skipper Rohit Sharma celebrate the wicket of England’s Ben Duckett on Day 1 of the 4th Test (ANI )

Anticlimaxes like this can be a telling blow to the psyche of a debutant. The anguish was writ large on his face, but Deep didn’t let it mar a spell that pegged England back in the first session. “When Crawley hit Siraj for three boundaries and a six, I felt bad. I thought maybe my team would suffer because of that no ball. Was a little tense about that,” said later at the press conference. “That’s the thing with Akash Deep,” said Manoj Tiwary, Deep’s first captain at Bengal. “First thing you notice in him is his honesty, his never-die attitude, hunger and desire to make a name for himself. Whatever you will ask of him, he will do.”

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Having started out as a batter, and not a great one at that, Deep switched to fast bowling to find his calling. Organised cricket first happened to him in tennis ball khep tournaments at Durgapur and Asansol but it wasn’t until Deep came to Kolkata to play second division cricket that he began to bowl with the red ball more regularly. The pace, already notable, had now become seriously quick. Local scouts were alerted to this boy from Sasaram who was making wicketkeepers stand further back than usual.

What followed is a story all too familiar with Kolkata’s maidan circuit—a boy from UP or Bihar showing up just like that and making heads turn, no accommodation, hardly any money, but with exceptional pace and control. Mohammed Shami, Mukesh Kumar, quite a few have come up this way. And now Deep. Having lost his father and elder brother within six months in 2015, Deep didn’t know anything else but to play cricket. “When you lose two elders like that, you have nothing to lose, only to gain. That’s what I told myself when I left home to play cricket,” said Deep.

Club cricket paid good money. But it was only after he was inducted in the Vision 2020 programme of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) did Deep get proper accommodation at the Eden Gardens dormitory. Here was perfected the base of an easy and repeatable bowling action, finally culminating in a Ranji Trophy debut in 2019. At first, it was all about speed. “The first thing that came to our attention is his speed,” said Tiwary. “He can easily go up to 145-150 kph. But more devastating is that inswing.”

Crawley would know. Getting bowled twice over is something of a feat, that too to the same bowler, similar ball and similar exaggerated movement. The surprising reaction couldn’t have masked the clumsiness in failing to close the gap between bat and ball, or playing the ball as late and close to the body as possible. Fact is Deep beat him with pace and pace alone. Trying to anticipate the movement and play him down the crease was another option, but Ollie Pope’s leg-before dismissal doing exactly that had probably become a huge deterrent by then.

More satisfying must have been the way Deep set up his first Test wicket, peppering that short of good length till Duckett had to poke at one.

“Fast bowling becomes easier if you keep hitting the good areas. So, I just focused on my line and length,” said Deep. And also, on mixing up his deliveries.

The over before Deep got Duckett, two of the six balls he faced had straightened on pitching and were defended solidly. But facing Deep again after driving Ravindra Jadeja for a four, Duckett probably wasn’t alert enough to the one that moves away. It did, only by a little bit, and that’s all Deep needed to start making his mark on a sunny, memorable day at Ranchi. By the time he was done bowling a sensational opening spell of 7-0-24-3, Deep had well and truly announced himself as the next big thing in Indian cricket.


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