He had just received his maiden call-up to the Indian Test squad for the remaining three matches against England, a reward for his hard work in red ball cricket for Bengal and India A over the past season.
“I was hopeful that in near future I might get a Test call-up if I keep performing but I didn’t expect that it would come by third match itself,” Akash Deep’s soft voice belied any sense of elation as he spoke to PTI from his hotel room at Thumba in Kerala.
It has been a good seven-year journey for the 27-year-old from being the star tennis ball all-rounder in Durgapur to playing first division in Kolkata, followed by U-23 and First-Class cricket.
IN SASARAM, PLAYING CRICKET WAS “CRIME”
If someone would have told a 15-year-old son of government school teacher, Ramji Singh, that he can have a career in cricket then he himself would have laughed it off.
“In Bihar (suspended by BCCI in those days), there was no platform and especially from the place where I came from, Sasaram, playing cricket was a crime. Kitne parents jo aapne bacchon se kahte the Akash se duur raho, woh padhai nahi karta hai aur usko sangat mein bigaad jaogey (Lot of parents would warn their children that don’t mingle with Akash as he only plays cricket and your studies would go for toss),” Akash laughed.
“But you know, I don’t blame them. What would you have achieved playing cricket in a place like ours? You would waste time and not even become a cricketer and also ignore academics.
Your future would be ruined and they were worried. So, were my parents,” he said.
His father would tell Akash to appear for government exams if possible.
“Appear for Bihar Police constable’s exams or at least try for state government’s class IV staff (peon), my father used to say. 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,” he said.
But then things changed when tragedy struck, not once but twice in a period of six months.
After the demise of his father, Akash even more tragically lost his elder brother, who had two young school going daughters.
“Six months mein papa aur bhaiyya ka dehant ho gaya. Mere paas khoney ke liye kuch thaa nahi. Motivation yeh thaa ki aab kuch karna hai kyon ki family ki zimmedari leni hai (I had nothing to lose but needed to take responsibility).”
With the help of a friend, he got a chance to play for a club in West Bengal’s 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 there would be three to four days a month, I would play tennis ball matches around district and earned Rs 6000 per day.
So I would earn 20,000 per month, which helped me run my expenses,” said Akash, who was self-taught till he made the Bengal U-23 cut.
“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,” he said.
PLAYING AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL
Akash has 103 wickets from 29 First-Class games and in two ‘Tests’ against England Lions, he took 11 wickets, including two four wicket hauls.
“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.
I was in (India) ODI squad in South Africa and realised more than skill, at this level, it is more about mental strength of being able to execute plans under pressure,” he said.
This is first time in many years that two Bengal pacers are together in the Indian Test team.
“This is a matter of pride that myself and Mukesh (Kumar) bhai will be in the Indian dressing room together in a Test team. Bengal is our state and it has given us everything. This national call-up is my way of showing my gratitude to Bengal,” he said.