| Mike Atherton is Akash Chopra’s idol
Rajkot: Akash Chopra had everything going for him till a (wrongly diagnosed) knee injury, on the eve of last season’s Delhi-Tamil Nadu Ranji semi-finals, kept him off competitive cricket for almost five months.
He missed the A tour of England and, then, wasn’t considered for the 2003-2004 season-launching Challenger Trophy in Bangalore. Last week’s three-dayer in Vizag, therefore, was Akash’s first match after that end-of-April Ranji game. Obviously, there was much at stake and he responded with a superb unbeaten 103.
That one innings confirmed Akash has the temperament and class to merit a promotion. Indeed, according to well-placed sources, he looks good to be named in the Team India squad for the first Test (Ahmedabad) versus New Zealand, beginning next Wednesday. That the right-hander got 66 for India A here, against the visitors’ first XI attack on Friday, should make it easier for the national selectors — Sadagopan Ramesh’s 110 notwithstanding.
“Yes, that Vizag innings (for Board President’s XI versus New Zealand) will remain special... After all, I underwent surgery on the right knee in early May and, then, had no cricket till that match. I was determined to make the most of that opportunity and, fortunately, got some runs,” Akash told The Telegraph.
Looking back, he accepted he ought not to have played the Ranji semi-finals, but added: “It was a big game and, moreover, I was myself keen... However, I wasn’t properly guided and aggravated that injury... It resulted in a lot of frustration but, perhaps, it was destined that way...”
The rehab, though, was well programmed (by Delhi’s Dr Chandan Chawla) and Akash even finished in the top five during the fitness ‘trials’ in phase II of the pre-season conditioning camp. He had to skip phase No. 1 as he was in the midst of that rehab programme.
Actually, Akash has come through the ranks and was a big success during the A tours of Sri Lanka (mid 2002) and the West Indies (early 2003). His first-class debut was back in 1997-98 when he registered hundreds in his first two matches — against Services and Punjab. Knowing exactly where the off-stump is, has always been his USP.
Akash, who turned 26 on September 19, idolises former England captain Mike Atherton and, in his early years, looked up to the late Raman Lamba. “We played for the same club (Sonnet) and Ramanbhai did have an influence when I was on the verge of making it to the Delhi side,” he pointed out.
The only child of Shyam Lal (an ex-Air Forceman) and Shashi, Akash keeps track of what happens in tennis and soccer. Incidentally, his current favourites are Mark Philippoussis and David Beckham. Reading the odd book is also a hobby as is listening to music (“anything that sounds good...”).
Asked whether he was conscious of being in the selectors’ sights, when he took guard at the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground, Akash grinned: “I believe in destiny... What I’m always conscious about, however, is staying focussed... As an opener, I have a responsibility... I try not to get things wrong.”
That’s a nice attitude.