Flying high with a bat full of runs
Deepak Chougule has emerged as a batsman with potential in his debut Ranji season. The Belgaum lad has indeed come a long way ever since he rushed to catch a Bangalore-bound bus.
HE WAS a medium pacer in a hurry to catch a bus. And his side was about to bat. Understanding his predicament, the coach asked him to open the innings.
Deepak Chougule played a cameo, helped his side win, and then caught a bus to Bangalore.
The diminutive Belgaum lad had made the most important stride in his life.
Looking back on that balmy evening seven years ago in his hometown, Deepak smiles and says: "Actually, I was rushing to participate in a table tennis tournament in Bangalore, and with that innings, I realised that I had the potential to be a batsman and after that there was no more bowling and table tennis."
The 19-year-old lad is now a key middle order batsman in the Karnataka Ranji squad and it is indeed praiseworthy that he is holding his own in a batting line-up that has the likes of J. Arun Kumar, Vijay Bharadwaj, Thilak Naidu, and Barrington Rowland. Deepak, in his debut Ranji season this year, scored 493 runs, averaging 61.62, and notched his maiden first class century with a 166 against Vidharbha in the semi-final.
Karnataka eventually won the Ranji Trophy Plate division and Deepak's solidity in the middle order remains an adhesive that held the team's batting fortunes together in crises. "He is a fine thinker of the game and it also helps that he is predominantly a backfoot player, which gives him those extra seconds. Earlier, I did think that he was suspect against the short-pitched stuff, but he has learnt immensely over the years and now looks compact. He plays within his strengths and he is a terrific prospect," says Sanath Kumar, Talent Resource Development Officer of the Karnataka State Cricket Academy.
Deepak does give a clue to his new found comfort zone against fast bowlers. "I learnt a lot in the India under-19 tour of England last year. Coach Robin Singh helped me immensely both in batting as well as in fielding. I was indeed suspect against swing bowling and used to snick early on, but with that tour of England, I am more sure in my shot selection,"' he says.
The word "sure" does rest easy in his vocabulary now. And Deepak has indeed come a long way ever since those gawky early steps as he padded up for Dharwad Zone in the inter-zonal tournament. However, the runs flowed nice and easy and he bagged the junior State cap in "The Sportstar" under-13 Trophy tournament at Chennai in 1997. History was about to pause and the record book was in for a tumble. Deepak scored an unbeaten 400 on his debut against Goa.
He was now the boy of big things and the fact that he scored that huge mountain of runs in a single day still remains a glittering nugget in statistical tomes. "It was my first ever century, and to score a 400, and that too on my junior State debut is something special. In fact, when I think about it, I am actually surprised that I never threw my wicket after getting my hundred and went on and on," he says.
Deepak was on the elevator to cricketing success, and while lads in his age group lapped up tennis ball cricket and ice creams, he was busy honing his skills at the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy (BPCA) in Bangalore.
And Belgaum remained a home that stayed distant. "I go to Belgaum once a year. I hardly get time since I have matches, have to attend college, have to practice, and yes, I do miss my family, but I am thankful to my coach at the BPCA, N. Chakravarty, who not only coached me the finer points, but has also allowed me to stay with him," Deepak says.
The short lad known for his tall deeds with the willow soon became a fixture in the Karnataka teams for the under-16 V. Pattabhiraman Trophy and under-19 Ghulam Ahmed Trophy tournaments.
The junior India cap was another milestone that eased into his resume and Deepak had his champagne moment while guiding India to a title triumph in the under-17 Asia Cup at Dhaka in 2000. Deepak scored two fifties, and his effusive batting, topped with agile fielding against Pakistan helped India keep its archrival at bay. "He played well under pressure and was a revelation," coach Roger Binny had then said.
Deepak was soon on the flight to Australia as he bagged the Border-Gavaskar Scholarship from the National Cricket Academy for a training stint Down Under. "The sessions at the Australian Cricket Academy helped me a lot in terms of playing fast bowling and also made me more aggressive," he says.
The India colours also remained a steady companion and he was traipsing with the team in the under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, and later in the under-19 tour of England.
He averaged 60 in the birthplace of cricket and that gave enough strength and foresight to the State selectors to ink his name in the Ranji squad.
It was crossroads-hour for Deepak and he knew that many a promising junior cricketer had faltered while making a transition into the senior squad. He, however, took measured steps ever since his Ranji debut against Maharashtra at Pune and captain J. Arun Kumar is pleased with "chottu" Deepak's nickname in the Ranji ranks. "He is a hard working cricketer with the right attitude," says Arun Kumar.
And Deepak is thankful to the support he gets in the dressing room. "The senior players have been very supportive and in fact there was a phase in my debut season when I was getting fifties and then getting out. I was concentrating hard, but somehow, I played the wrong shots and got dismissed.
Captain Arun Kumar then advised me on how to go about compiling centuries and I did score one soon against Vidharbha, which remains a special knock for me," Deepak says.
The lad who speaks Marathi back home speaks louder with a bat in hand.
The commerce student at Presidency College, dials the right numbers as a batsman, but a few false notes does chime in when he gets restless at the crease.
It happened recently at a Duleep Trophy match when he attacked leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani and lost his wicket. "Yes, I do get carried away at times and that is a weakness. But my strength is that when I don't get runs for a long time at the crease I still do have the patience to wait and build an innings. I am indebted to my coaches in Belgaum Ravi Shankar Malshet and Firoz Sheikh for guiding me in my earlier days," he says.
The senior India cap remains a cherished dream, but Deepak stays rooted to the present. "Right now, I am just thinking about scoring runs in the Duleep Trophy. And if I keep scoring runs I am bound to get noticed," says the lad who idolises Sachin Tendulkar, Mark Waugh, and Aravinda De Silva.
And with a philosophy that banks on "getting-just-rewards-with-hardwork", Deepak has the freedom to dream about carving his own space in the sun.
Sometimes it does help to catch a bus on time.
K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR
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