Mayank Agarwal’s time has come

Karnataka opener has done enough to earn his Boxing Day Test debut

K L Rahul made his Test debut on Australia’s biggest sporting day of the year – the Boxing Day Test. He batted in the middle-order after replacing Rohit Sharma and picked up scores of three and one in a disastrous introduction to Test cricket.

Four years down the line at the same venue and same day, he faces the axe. Ironically, it could be his State-mate and best friend Mayank Agarwal who could push him out of the 11. Rahul has aggregated 48 runs from four innings so far and has inspired little confidence by the manner he has been getting out. His partner M Vijay hasn’t set the stage on fire either. He has tallied 49 in the two Tests but appeared to be regaining his touch in Perth when he surrendered his wicket cheaply again.

While in terms of numbers there isn’t that separates the struggling duo much, it may all boil down to whether the team management is looking at long-term solution to the recurring problem at the top or looking at immediate gains – that’s to win series. At 26 and with a proven record, Rahul has to be your future as opposed to Vijay who at 34 is closer to the end of his career.

Let whoever the team management of captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri chooses to stick with, the other half of the combination has to be Mayank Agarwal. Sometimes, it’s better to go with the fresh blood. The energy and enthusiasm the freshers bring to the set-up can be infectious. While there’s always the nervous energy, the mental baggage that the other two are carrying won’t be there. And Agarwal hasn’t gotten to this stage just by luck.

While fortune did play its hand in the shape of an ill-timed injury to Prithvi Shaw before the series could commence, Agarwal deserved to be here even otherwise. He had done more than what Shaw had done in the run up to the selection for the final two Tests in England when the team management left out Vijay after the first three matches. Agarwal’s credentials, however, were cruelly overlooked as Shaw won the selectors’ approval. Though he didn’t get a match in England, he was shoe-in for the following two-Test series against West Indies at home having been part of the squad previously. With Rahul taking the other place, Agarwal, who had nudged out Shikhar Dhawan from the squad, spent the two Tests carrying drinks and towels.

When it was time to pick the squad for Australia, the selectors obviously couldn’t have packed the top-order with the two-Test old Shaw, yet-to-make-his-debut Agarwal and a struggling Rahul. At the same time, Vijay notched up some big runs in Country cricket and given his experience and past record Down Under, the Tamil Nadu batsman won his place back. Agarwal again became a convenient but obvious scapegoat.   

However, the universe has once again conspired in helping Agarwal get closer to his dream debut but only closer. If India’s ‘nets’ are anything to go by, then the 27-year-old stands a good chance of making the cut. On Sunday, all three openers batted together but on Monday, 48 hours before the match, only Rahul and Mayank were batting in the ‘nets’ while Vijay was nowhere to be seen though he was pretty much at the venue. Interestingly, Parthiv Patel, too, began the proceedings with Rahul and Agarwal and the seasoned wicketkeeper-batsman has opened for India many times in the past.

Though there is little connection to what one sees and what eventually transpires with this Indian team, a reinforcement is needed at the top and no one deserves this chance more than Agarwal. The Boxing Day occasion will be overwhelming, the atmosphere can be intimidating and there is no guarantee that Agarwal will succeed but if his 3000-plus runs for Karnataka and India ‘A’ over the last one and half years don’t convince the men that matter, then nothing will.

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