The independent voice of cricket

India v England 2024

Toughened by life, debutant Akash Deep stays in the present and bowls his best ball

Akash Deep Test debut performance
by Naman Agarwal 6 minute read

Akash Deep became the latest entrant in India’s quickly-changing Test lineup. Naman Agarwal, in Ranchi, writes on how Deep, a small-town boy with big dreams, stayed true to himself to produce a debut spell for the ages.

“It feels nice to see our state progressing so much,” said a lady in the tuktuk on my way to the JSCA International Stadium, referring to the commotion around Ranchi as it prepared to host its third Test match.

MS Dhoni put Ranchi on the cricketing map a decade and a half ago, but the feeling of hosting a cricket match and inviting fans from across the world is still a new feeling to many. Cricket still hasn’t seeped into the culture of the place as deeply as some of the other parts of India.

Akash Deep, India’s newest Test cap, hails from a small town not too far away.

Sasaram is in the western part of Bihar, about 300 kilometers from Deep’s debut Test venue. So foreign was the concept of letting kids pursue a career in cricket there, that Deep was considered to be a “bad influence” by some of his mates’ parents due to his passion for the sport.

Some of those opinions must have changed today.

On international debut, the 27-year-old Deep, who has often been dealt the short end of the stick by life, made the English top order dance to the tunes of the moving new ball.

Coming in to replace Jasprit Bumrah in the XI as the management decided to rest the spearhead, Deep had big shoes to fill. So big that not many really expected him to debut.

With Mohammed Siraj, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Kuldeep Yadav in the XI, Deep was supposed to be an afterthought. India were supposed to give him a couple of overs with the new ball before turning to the spinners – it had been the case with all other second seamers in the series. The numbers are pretty: 104 first-class wickets at 23, but you were supposed to get only a glimpse of domestic cricket’s latest product.

Instead, Deep stole the show.

Sharing the new ball with Siraj, Deep – who leapfrogged his Bengal teammate Mukesh Kumar in the pecking order – turned to be sharp and incisive on debut.

Armed with a natural angle in to the right-hander and away from the left, and a run-up reminiscent of another Bengal teammate, Mohammed Shami, Deep nearly touched 140 kph with his very first delivery in Test cricket. With his sixth, he beat the bat for the first time, getting one to angle across Ben Duckett.

The Ranchi surface was in discussion ahead of the game, a strangely rare occurrence in this series. Ben Stokes had said that “he had not seen anything like that before”, referring to the confusing look of the pitch. Ollie Pope had called it “interesting” and expected India to play the extra spinner. What almost no one had expected, however, was there to be substantial help for seamers. Deep, who hits the deck hard with his whippy, quick arm action, extracted all that was on offer.

The first ball of his second over hit Zak Crawley on the thigh pad, the third generated an inside edge, and by the fifth, he had his maiden Test wicket. Almost. A picture perfect in-ducker sneaked through Crawley’s bat and pad to send his off stump cartwheeling. Could there be a better way to open your account in Test cricket as a fast bowler? Probably not, but it didn’t matter since Deep had overstepped.

Akash Deep Test debut performance

Akash Deep bowled Zak Crawley in his second over only for it to be called a no-ball. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Deep must have wondered: “Will I ever get another chance to get a Test wicket?”

It’s easy for debutants to drown in such thoughts, but Deep is built different. In an interview with his IPL team RCB last year, Deep had mentioned how he lives in the present, probably toughened by the circumstances he grew up in: “I have a natural habit that I neither think too far ahead nor too far back. I play every match, be it for Bengal, my club, or for RCB, as if it’s my last match.”

Channeling his ability to not lose focus of what’s in front of him, Deep continued doing what was working for him: hit the deck hard on a good length, angle the ball in to the right-hander, and bowl fast.

He induced a couple of more false shots in his next two overs, before finally having his reward in his fifth. A length ball that came in with the around the wicket angle to Ben Duckett and held its line, induced a faint outside edge off Duckett to hand him his first Test wicket: this time for real. The wait for the second lasted just two balls.

Ollie Pope, in an attempt to counter the shape into him, stepped out but couldn’t save himself from getting struck on the pad. The movement was extravagant and it looked like a long shot, but three reds meant India’s review was successful and Deep had his second. If two wickets in three balls on debut wasn’t enough, Deep almost had three in four, trapping Joe Root in front first ball in similar fashion. India reviewed again, but an inside edge saved the former England captain.

Given the roll he was in, Deep was given a sixth over on the bounce. The move paid off. He knocked over Crawley’s stumps for the second time in the morning, and this time for good. The opener had launched an assault on Siraj a few overs back, hitting him for three fours and a six. Deep, who had given him a reprieve, was admittedly guilty. “I felt bad when he (Crawley) hit Siraj for that six. I felt that the team was suffering because of me,” Deep said after the day’s play. By removing him before he could get a big score, Deep redeemed himself.

Akash Deep Test debut performance

Zak Crawley was finally dismissed by Akash Deep for the second time in the day, after having him bowled off a no-ball earlier

Deep bowled three more spells through the day, two in second session broken due to a change of ends, and one at the very end. Root, who finally came good in the series, remaining unbeaten on 106, was troubled by Deep late in the day as well despite being well set.

Having left home in 2016 in pursuit of a career in cricket after losing both his father and his brother, Deep, in his own words, “had nothing else to lose”. Eight years down the line, Deep finished his first day in Test cricket with the best figures (3-70) among all bowlers and dedicated his performance to his late father: “I would like to dedicate this to my father. I couldn’t do much when he was alive, so this is for him.”

England recovered well to finish the day on 302-7 after being 112-5 at lunch. Both India and Deep still have a job to do on the second morning, with the door still open for the seamer to get a five-for on debut. Knowing him, however, the only thing he would have in his mind would be what has brought him from Sasaram to Ranchi through Bengal: stay in the present and bowl your best ball.

Subscribe to the Wisden Cricket YouTube channel for post-match analysis, player interviews, and much more.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99