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Was hopeful of a Test call-up but didn't expect it this soon: Akash Deep

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Last updated on 11 Feb 2024 | 05:07 AM
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Was hopeful of a Test call-up but didn't expect it this soon: Akash Deep

The Bengal pacer makes it to the Indian side for the remaining three Tests against England

Bengal pacer Akash Deep earned his maiden Test call-up to the Indian side for the remainder of the series against England, replacing Avesh Khan in the squad. Akash was in the middle of a Ranji Trophy game for Bengal against Kerala at Thumba when the news of his selection broke in the dressing room.

His call-up is a reward for the hard work he has put in for Bengal and India A. He has 103 wickets in 29 matches since making his debut in 2019 for Bengal. He also picked up 11 wickets in two unofficial Tests against England Lions last month to further boost his chances.

While he was confident of being called-up soon, the pacer reveals that he did not expect it to be this soon.

"I was hopeful that in the near future, I might get a Test call-up if I keep performing, but I didn't expect that it would come by the third match itself," Akash told PTI.

Growing up in Sasaram, Bihar was not easy for an aspiring cricketer like Akash as BCCI banned the association. However, Akash continued to toil and progressed from playing tennis ball cricket in Durgapur in West Bengal to playing first division cricket in Kolkata, followed by Under-23s and then finally playing first-class cricket.

"In Bihar, there was no platform, and especially from the place where I came from, Sasaram, playing cricket was a crime," Akash recalled.

"Lots of parents would ask their children not to mingle with Akash as he only plays cricket, and your studies would go for a toss. But I don't blame them. What would you have achieved playing cricket in a place like that? You would be wasting time and not even become a cricketer, and also ignore academics. Your future would be ruined, and they were worried. So were my parents."

In fact, Akash's father was keen for his son to land a government job.  "Appear for Bihar police constable's exams or at least try for state government's Class IV staff [peons], my father used to say," Akash said. 

"He would fill up those government job application forms and I would go for exams and come back submitting blank forms. In my mind, while cricket was my passion, I just wanted to be happy and never thought about making it a career."

However, things took a drastic turn when he lost his father and brother in a span of six months. He would then completely turn to cricket to provide for his family despite the lack of money.

"My father and my brother died within six months. I had nothing to lose, and the motivation was that I had to take care of the family," the 27-year-old said. 

"A friend helped him join a club in Durgapur, but the money he earned came from playing tennis-ball cricket.

"I would play proper leather-ball matches for my club, but initially, there was no money. So, three to four days a month, I would play tennis-ball matches around the district and earn Rs 6000 per day. So I would earn 20,000 per month, which helped me run my expenses.

"I never had any fixed coach. Saurasish Lahiri [current Bengal assistant coach], Arun Lal sir, Rano sir [Ranadeb Bose], all have helped me from time to time, and whatever I could learn, I have learnt."

Akash was part of the squad for the One-Day International (ODI) series against South Africa recently. While he did not debut, he feels the experience was invaluable.

"Inswing is my stock delivery, but at this level, you need to have outswing and reverse swing and, more importantly, need to control the swing," he says. "I was in the ODI squad in South Africa and realised that more than skill, at this level, it is more about mental strength of being able to execute plans under pressure," Akash said.

He will also share the dressing room with fellow Bengal pacer Mukesh Kumar, who replaced Mohammed Siraj in the second Test in Visakhapatnam. "This is a matter of pride that myself and Mukesh bhai will be in the Indian dressing room together in a Test team," he said. 

"Bengal is our state, and it has given us everything. This national call-up is my way of showing my gratitude to Bengal."

With the five-match series level at 1-1, India and England will hope to take the lead in the third Test in Rajkot, starting Thursday (February 15).

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