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Akash: A genuine opening batsman

Debutante Akash Chopra quit his job with an insurance company, as it did not give him time to play ? and achieve his goal to play for India.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2003 22:36 IST

Debutante Akash Chopra, who will open India's batting in the first cricket Test against New Zealand, quit his job with an insurance company as it did not give him time to play - and achieve his goal of representing India.

Such is the determination of the 26-year-old Delhi boy to fulfil an objective he had set for himself as a seven year old.

That Chopra will open the batting with his Delhi captain Virender Sehwag will be a comforting thought against Stephen Fleming's team in the Ahmedabad Test.

Chopra's coach Tarak Sinha is one of the happiest people around - also because the compact opener is the ninth international cricketer he has produced.

"One should have a desire in one's heart to do something," said the Sonnet Club coach of his talented ward, who has just recovered from a serious knee injury sustained playing football before a Duleep Trophy match last year.

That had made him miss out the India 'A' tour of England this summer.

An operation was necessitated after Chopra aggravated the injury while warming-up, again by playing football during the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Tamil Nadu in March.

But Chopra shrugged off the injury to serve notice of his return at Vishakhapatnam last week, when he played his first first-class match since March.

In the little time the rains allowed in the game between the Board President's XI and the Kiwis, Chopra scored a patient century to stake his claim for a place in the national team.

The stocky batsman then followed it up with another responsible knock of 66 for the India 'A' at Rajkot a couple of days ago to enhance his claim for the opening slots, which have been India's bane over the years.

And, when the selectors eventually acknowledged Chopra's consistency, class and temperament by including him in the 14 for the first Test, he immediately called Tarak Sinha, even before speaking to his parents.

"When he called me, I congratulated him and pointed out a

few chinks I had noticed in his batting at Vishakhapatnam and Rajkot," Sinha said.

Sinha will, however, not be able to meet his latest protégé before the big match as the right-hander will be going to Ahmedabad directly from Rajkot, while the coach will follow the match on the television.

Chopra came in contact with Sinha when he was seven years old.

"Initially, I made him do the scoring for two years, during which period he also served as the 12th man," said Sinha.

After playing local and almost all age-group domestic tournaments, Chopra's is a true case of coming through the ranks.

His rapid rise on the domestic front earned him selection in the India under-19 squad that toured Sri Lanka in 1996-97, where he did no harm to his reputation of a promising opener.

Delhi rewarded the Agra-born player with the Ranji

Trophy cap in 1997-98 and Chopra grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring 150 against the Services on his debut.

"He is a opening batsman in the real sense of the word, as he has always opened the batting for all the teams he has played for," stressed coach Sinha.

A graduate from Delhi's Rajdhani College, Chopra has excelled in both the four-day Ranji Trophy matches and the limited overs variety.

This is evident from Chopra's 50-plus career averages in both versions of the game.

"Not many people have written about this aspect of Akash's game," pointed out Sinha. "He watches the ball, smells it and despatches it with equal facility."

As cricket occupied most of Chopra's time, he had to discontinue his Masters' course midway after getting himself enrolled in Hindu College, a traditional cricketing power in Delhi University.

But chances are he will not regret missing out on a Masters' degree now that he has got an opportunity to carry forward the legacy of another master opener - Sunil Gavaskar.

It is a tough ask, but Chopra's feet are on the ground

and his temperament and his ability to play strokes are expected to stand him in good stead.

First Published: Oct 06, 2003 11:44 IST