Being able to rub shoulders with and enjoy elite company of players like Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis in a star-studded RCB dressing room has helped Bengal speedster Akash Deep to mentally toughen up.
Akash Deep's journey at RCB began when he was drafted in as a net bowler in the UAE leg of the IPL 2021. But he got a chance only a season later after being picked at the IPL 2022 mega auction. He has made rapid progress since then.
"When I got into the IPL for first time, at some point after going at that level, you understand that you got the skill, fitness and quality," the 'local' lad told reporters at Eden Gardens, on the eve of their IPL match against Kolkata Knight Riders.
"You also need mental ability to perform well on a big platform. So, by talking to these star players and sharing dressing room with them, you get to learn all those things. Like how to get yourself ready mentally for a game. It has really helped me."
He went on to play five matches for the franchise last season and picked five wickets. Forming a pace quartet with Mohammed Siraj, Reece Topley and Harshal Patel, Akash Deep claimed the prized wicket of MI skipper Rohit Sharma to return with figures of 3-0-29-1 in the IPL 2023 season-opener against Mumbai Indians.
On the bowling front, Akash Deep has stressed on staying fit besides honing his skills in swing and accuracy.
"Our domestic season is pretty long. So the priority as a fast bowler is to stay fit for the whole season. I've worked on that. Also, I felt you must have the options to bowl well on any type of wickets. I have worked on my swing and developing accuracy," he said.
Akash Deep also wants to make a difference with the bat.
"I was a batter when I started playing. My focus shifted a bit from batting after I became a frontline bowler. For us (tailenders), even 10-15-20 runs for team's contribution is a big role. I realised that I should work on my batting as well so that I can contribute to my team's win.
Back to play IPL for the first time at his Ranji home venue, Akash Deep is now helping his teammates providing inputs of the pitch.
"I never played IPL here. It will initially helpful for pace bowlers. The effort will be to use the powerplay to maximum use both as a bowling and batting unit. It will definitely make a difference.
"I spoke to the curator and he told me he would make a batting-friendly wicket as a match is happening here after a long time. But here, pacers get the initial help always. I think it would be a similar wicket."
Terming it a proud moment to play IPL at his home Eden Gardens, he said: "It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, I first got to play in the IPL. All matches were happening at the same venue. So it's a proud moment for me to play in such a big platform at my home venue.
"In cricket planning is always simple, whoever the batter may be. It's about backing my skill and strength. Keep doing the same things that we have been doing for so long," he added.
We don't lack experience: KKR coach Pandit
As for the home side, Kolkata Knight Riders' quality might appear thin on paper in absence of their captain Shreyas Iyer and Shakib Al Hasan, but coach Chandrakant Pandit firmly backed the team to do well.
"I would not say that experience is lacking. Every individual has created an impact in the domestic and International level. They are all reputed cricketers.
I believe each and every player is capable of playing well. We are not depending on someone. Whatever squad we have, each one of them good enough to give a good impact."
KKR lost to Punjab Kings by seven runs via DLS Method but Pandit picked the positives and said they were in the game till the last over despite losing wickets at regular intervals.
"One cannot be judgmental after just in first game. Looking at the last game, we were in game till last over. That was unfortunate to lose. I'm pretty confident of the side we have," he concluded.