Poised for the big leap

Personality : Having done the hard yards, Mayank Agarwal feels he can contribute in all formats of the game

Poised for the big leap

Mayank Agarwal is closer to making the cut in the Senior Indian cricket team, albeit in the limited-overs versions, than any of his Karnataka team-mates at the moment. Yet, the feisty opener found himself left out for his State team’s Ranji Trophy match against Bengal; this after he had made 83 runs from two innings against Assam in Karnataka’s season opener. While it says a lot about the health of Karnataka cricket and the wealth of talent that they boast of, there is no denying the progress the youngster has made in the past few months, both as a cricketer and as a person.

“Having good competition within the team is a great thing for every cricketer,” says Agarwal, talking on the jostling for places within his State side. “Everyone keeps improving. You're always looking to push harder. The good thing about the setup in Karnataka is everyone is not just looking to play Ranji Trophy — everyone is looking to play higher up (for India). It's a great feeling to be constantly competing and looking to get better. As a professional, you have to try and better yourself — every day, every session, every hour…” he tells you, reflecting a clarity of thought that would have been hard to find just a year ago.

In a team from which more players have played for India and India ‘A’ teams in the last couple of years than from any other domestic side in the country, Agarwal has been the headline grabber with plenty of runs at the top of the order for India ‘A’. While his 409 runs, the highest in the tri-series involving ‘A’ teams from Australia and South Africa, fetched him man of the series in a title-winning campaign, the right-hander’s brisk 87 in the lone T20 practice match in Delhi against the mighty South Africans late last month powered the home team to stunning win.

While Agarwal hasn’t sacrificed his natural stroke-playing game, he has learned the difference between being aggressive and reckless. “I acknowledge the fact that I'm batting extremely well,” he notes. “I've worked hard on little aspects of my technique. I've worked very hard on the mental aspect of my game. I am now looking to bat long, trying to understand my game, what are the things I can do with my game, what shots I should play, what balls I should leave, how to pace my innings and stuff like that… And I'm reaping the results.”

The opportunity to work with India ‘A’ coach Rahul Dravid couldn’t have come at a better time for the Delhi Daredevils’ batsman. Who else could have drilled the value of one’s wicket than the former India captain who was hard to dislodge once he was set?

“He told me, 'once you get set, when it's a good day, you've got to win the match for your team. When you're getting runs, you've got to keep repeating it,’” Agarwal reveals, talking about Dravid’s influence on him. “When I got the hundred (against South Africa A), he came up and told me, ‘Mayank, tomorrow is a new day. You've got to go and do what you have done right today. Repeat the process, follow the same things, have the same thought processes.’”

There was never a doubt about Agarwal’s talent but it didn’t reflect in his performances. With every step forward, it seemed, he would take two back. Having begun the last Ranji season as the first-choice opener on a promising note, he was eventually dropped after subsequent low returns. While the omission hurt him, it was the catalyst that was needed to get his priorities right.

“I have been working all along and I will keep working,” he points out when asked about the moment that brought about the change in his work ethic. “But a lot of people were coming and telling me, 'You have the game but you're not reaping the results.' I went back and thought about it. I worked with RX Murali (former Karnataka U-19 coach) and it has come good. I have worked a lot on my fitness as well -- a lot of long distance running as well as strength training.

I have always been working hard but I hadn't channelised my energies in the right direction. Now I have. The biggest thing is that I've understood my game better. I'm looking forward to doing that more and more. I can understand what's working for me and keep repeating that to get some consistency,” offers Agarwal.

While at this point of his career, Agarwal appears to be enjoying more success in the shorter-version, he is desperate to prove his credentials in the longer format -- he doesn’t have a single first-class century from 15 matches -- as well. That he spent a total of 243 minutes and faced 158 balls for his 83 against Assam is an indicator of his desire to shed his image of an one-dimensional player.

“The label of limited-overs cricketer is definitely one of my concerns,” he admits. “I haven't got a hundred in the four-day format. It worries me that people are just going to tag me as a one-day and T20 player. Whenever I get the chance, I should make it count. Otherwise, I'm writing my own fate.”

Agarwal is, however, clear that he isn’t going to totally sacrifice his aggressive style of batting. “In the longer format, I don't make too many changes,” he stresses.

 “I just cut down a few strokes to bat longer. That's the only shift in mindset -- to try and play more balls, to bat sessions instead of looking to score runs. I think every player has a different approach to succeed. Not everyone plays the same game. My dream is still to play all three formats for the country. I think it’s possible to play shots and still succeed in long-form cricket. People have done that. You've had a lot of aggressive batsmen in Test cricket and I believe aggressive batsmen can win you games while chasing and put the opposition under pressure even on a tough track,” reasons Agarwal, who appears to be from the Virender Sehwag-school of batting.

“I really liked the way Virender Sehwag played. The way he keeps things simple is amazing. The kind of pressure he puts on the bowlers as an aggressive batsman -- he can take the game away from you in 10-12 overs in a one-day game or in a session in a Test match. That was very fascinating for me. I was lucky enough to have a couple of chats with him which have been extremely useful,” he analyses.

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