December 4, 2001

Dasgupta: The innings in South Africa gave me more satisfaction

He was a keen gymnast when Suneeta Sharma, a coach at the National Institute of Sport, decided to give him a go at the game of cricket. The lad turned out to be a more-than-decent bat, went on to climb rapidly through the age groups before making his first-class debut. A hundred in that match against Baroda in the Ranji Super League in 1998-99 confirmed that he was good enough for the domestic circuit. If there was any doubt about his belonging at the highest level, though, Deep Dasgupta went a long way in erasing it at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium at Mohali.

With patience that would have put a Trappist monk to shame, Dasgupta ducked, weaved and left the ball more times than the English bowlers could tolerate on the way to a maiden Test hundred. Showing remarkable restraint, Dasgupta occupied the crease long enough to reach exactly 100. The sixth Indian stumper to achieve the feat, Dasgupta has done a lot towards cementing his place in the Indian team.

His keeping has not been out of the top drawer - dropped catches have blemished his record and annoyed bowlers - but this innings will do his confidence a world of good. More often than not, when a keeper struggling behind the stumps makes runs, it rubs off and turns things around with the gloves as well. Dasgupta will be hoping for just that.

"It still hasn't sunk in, the fact that I've got a Test hundred," said an excited Dasgupta to pressmen soon after the end of the day's play. The stumper revealed that he was told he would open the innings quite late in the day. "When the match began, I was told I would be batting at number seven. Then Sanjay Bangar had his injury, and Sourav Ganguly asked if I would like to open. This was about halfway through the England innings. Naturally I accepted," revealed Dasgupta. A decision the lad will certainly not regret.

"I didn't really think much about opening the innings. I had a job to do, went in there, and batted as well as I could. It turned out that I got a hundred," said Dasgupta. Having been pressed into similar service in South Africa, Dasgupta compared the two experiences. "The wicket wasn't very different, really, between South Africa and here. There was grass on this wicket too. The bounce, of course, was a lot less here at Mohali," he said.

Dasgupta showed signs of nerves as he neared his ton. "I was certainly a bit nervous, but Rahul Dravid really helped me. He kept talking to me and telling me to concentrate. That helped me through to triple figures," he said.

The stumper made light of the work that he has put in so far in this Test. Keeping wickets and then opening the innings is never easy, but the lad brushed it off. "It's only a matter of fitness, really. Otherwise, there is no reason why someone shouldn't be able to do it regularly. Farokh Engineer did it for India in the past, and Alec Stewart has done it for England too," said Dasgupta, showing that he knew his cricketing history.

Dasgupta's century is just a validation of the faith that the Indian selection committee reposed in him, both in South Africa and afresh for the home series against England. The East Zone representative on the selection committee, Ashok Malhotra, said as much. "I have played a bit of club cricket with Deep, and I always knew he had it in him," he said. "The selectors had full faith in him, and he has not let them down."

Although reaching the three-figure mark is a dream for every batsman who plays Test cricket, Dasgupta let on that he valued his matchsaving contribution in South Africa more. "This is a very important innings for me obviously. But I personally feel that the innings in South Africa gave me more satisfaction. It was a completely different ball game, with us needing to save that game," he explained.

That is surely the most positive thing to emerge from this episode. Not carried away by success, Dasgupta has his feet firmly planted on the ground. As a stand-in opener and a stumper, he may still have a long way to go. A good beginning, however, has been made at Mohali.