The decision of the then Bengal coaching staff, led by Arun Lal, to push for a young fast bowler instead of backing an ageing pacer turned out to be effective.
Four seasons ago, in 2019-20, when Lal and Co. backed Akash Deep and benched Ashok Dinda (who was dropped also due to disciplinary reasons), it was seen as a big risk. But that risk went on to be a gain for Bengal as they finished runners-up in that edition of the Ranji Trophy with Akash playing an important role.
And for Akash, who kept making steady progress with his pace and ability to move the ball, the dream of earning a place in the Team India Test squad has finally been fulfilled. That too, within a couple of months from his ODI squad call-up for the series against South Africa in December.
“There’s a big difference between the two call-ups. That ODI selection was certainly special, but Test cricket is always something different. My ultimate goal has been to see myself in the India Test squad, and that stands above everything else.
“The red ball is something I’ve always tried to capitalise on,” Akash, currently in Thiruvananthapuram for Bengal’s Ranji Trophy clash against Kerala, told The Telegraph on Saturday.
It was during lunch on Day II of the Ranji game when Akash was informed by Bengal head coach Laxmi Ratan Shukla about his selection for the remaining three Tests against England.
There is a fair possibility of Akash making his Test debut in the ongoing series. “You never know, Akash may well make his debut in the fourth Test (in Ranchi from February 23). Jasprit Bumrah’s workload is definitely a factor, so with a (T20) World Cup coming up, making him play all five Tests will be a risk,” a BCCI source said.
Consistency with the red ball since his first-class debut in December 2019, a little bit of promise in the IPL donning the Royal Challengers Bangalore jersey and aggressive, accurate bowling for India ‘A’ against England Lions — where Akash finished with 11 scalps from two games in Ahmedabad — all of that were taken into account by the national selectors.
A chance to play could come any time, and Akash is ready for it. “Mindset-wise, I won’t be going in thinking that I need to do something different there. No. I’ll just stick to what I’ve been doing all this while as things won’t change overnight,” the 27-year-old said.
“It’s hard, red-ball cricket where the situation can change every day and so can the conditions. So, I’m not making any kind of assumption at this stage. The focus, at present, is purely on this Ranji game, where I still have plenty of work to do.”
Reverse swing is certainly an area Akash will be looking to master in the coming days. “Of course, reverse swing is very important and I’ve already started working on it.
“But this pitch (in Thiruvananthapuram) is a slow turner. So, it has been tough getting the ball to reverse,” he said.
Self-doubt, an obstacle
Lal, Bengal’s coach-cum-mentor when Akash made his debut, has hailed the speedster as one of the best and fastest in India.
The former India opener and ex-captain of Bengal feels Akash “isn’t quite a finished product yet” but will become even more lethal if he gets rid of self-doubt.
“His willingness to listen and learn stands out. The ability he has with the bat makes him a package, but he just needs to clear self-doubt. Once he does that, you’ll see how deadly he can be,” Lal said.