India debutant Mayank Agarwal shows good things come to those who wait

Ajit Vijaykumar 17:37 26/12/2018
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Mayank Agarwal.

Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was without doubt the flattest conditions Indian batsmen faced in 2018. On its own, the MCG pitch was not totally flat, but given the nature of surfaces provided to India on 10 occasions so far this year in South Africa, England and the first two Test in Australia, it was a dream.

In Melbourne, Australia were forced to use their off spinner Nathan Lyon inside the first 10 overs, a far cry from Perth. There was hardly any pace or sideways movement. Only Pat Cummins had some control over the proceedings as he kept a tight line and bowled short and into the body to hit almost every Indian batsman.

But someone had to go out there and score the runs. And that is what debutant opener Mayank Agarwal did. There might be a hundred and one ‘experts’ out there looking to discredit the hard-working Agarwal’s efforts on an admittedly benign surface; Australian commentator Kerry O’Keeffe had earlier suggested Agarwal’s runs in India’s domestic cricket didn’t matter as they came against some ‘Canteen XI’. But it won’t matter to Agarwal.

As Agarwal said after the day’s play, he did miss out on a century but is pleased to score 76 on Test debut. “I’m happy. I would definitely take a 76 rather than something less than that. Saying that, I would have liked to have gone on and be there at the end of the day,” said the debutant.

If anyone knows what it feels like to wait endlessly for an opportunity, it’s Agarwal. Maybe along with Karun Nair. While the latter has been dumped by the Indian management quite publicly – having Nair as part of the squad in England yet selecting late addition Hanuma Vihari ahead of him – Agarwal had not even reached Nair’s level of painful rejection. There was very little consideration to begin with.

For a batsman who scored nearly 2,000 runs in domestic cricket in the 2017/18 season, not getting the India cap was a bitter pill to swallow. Especially since players like KL Rahul were being allowed to fail at the top of the order regularly and even the tried and failed Rohit Sharma kept getting chances every now and then in the Test arena.

Agarwal’s success is a tribute to the hard-working class which puts its head down and gets on with the job. Not a lot of flamboyance but great efficiency and consistency.

I am sure India great Sunil Gavaskar’s ‘suggestion’ that lower profile batsmen should consider getting multiple tattoos and a stylish haircut to get the attention of the Indian management would have been seen by Agarwal as something worth trying. But he didn’t need to do that. All he had to do was wait, score consistently for Karnataka and India ‘A’. The opportunity dropped right into the 27-year-old’s lap.

Rahul and Murali Vijay flopped miserably in Australia. The lone Indian hope at the top of the order – young Prithvi Shaw – twisted his ankle before the first Test and that was the end of his Australian summer. There was hardly anyone else in the domestic circuit who could be asked to come in and do the job of facing Australian quicks with the new ball. With the series tied at 1-1 and no clarity over the nature of a green MCG surface, the Indian management had no option but to go for the reliable yet untested Agarwal at the top.

We will never know if Agarwal would have scored a fifty on debut if his first game had been at Perth, or even in England. But the fact is the classical batsman was denied a deserved opportunity for nearly an entire season. And when the chips were down and the team was running out of ideas and options, Agarwal took the bull by the horns and faced Australia’s mighty fast bowlers who were all charged up after squaring the series in Perth. The pitch was a slice of luck Agarwal thoroughly deserved.

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