Very often in our lives we come across the saying: “You must lay a strong foundation if you want to succeed in your career”. We hear it when we appear for our 10th board exams, the pre-university exams, entrance tests etc. We’re even reminded of it from our senior colleagues when we take up our first jobs.
The same is heard from coaches at thousands of academies across the country. A strong foundation is the cornerstone of success. Mayank Agarwal owes his brilliant take-off in the international arena to the very same foundation he laid out, first with childhood coach ‘RX’ Murali and then hours perfecting the craft in domestic circuit.
“We all knew Mayank was a talented kid but the way he has translated that talent into performance has been phenomenal,” former Karnataka coach J Arun Kumar told DH. “The Indian team is a hard place to get into and then establish yourself immediately. But he has done that in this series. It just shows he believes he belongs to the big stage now. The same hunger and passion that he had when he returned to the State side after being dropped can be seen in his eyes now. He’s worked extremely hard to get there and he wants to make it count.”
Agarwal, a naturally attacking batsman who modelled his career on Virender Sehwag, rose to prominence in his teens itself. Selectors, obviously impressed with his dashing style and sensing a star in the making, fast-tracked him into India ‘A’. With things happening way too quickly, a young Agarwal faltered as he tried to climb up the ladder. Things went so bad for the soft-spoken cricketer that he even went on to lose his place in the Karnataka side. That’s when he realised his foundation was shaken and he needed to strengthen it.
He went back to his childhood coach Murali and spent hours batting at the nets. The session would be as long as a day’s cricket at times. He worked on his trigger movements, attacking shots and defensive game. He even took to long-distance running to improve his endurance and then embraced Vipassana to enhance his mental strength. Hard labour rarely goes waste and what followed was two seasons (2016-2018) of phenomenal domestic success for the 28-year-old.
The stirring performances in the domestic circuit and with India ‘A’ have helped Agarwal make a strong start to his international cricket. “India A games really helped bridge the gap between domestic and international cricket, because the kind of teams you are facing and kind of teams other countries are fielding for those games are of top quality. So you know that you are almost playing international standard of bowling. It does help you bridge gap between domestic and international cricket,” felt Agarwal.
Called up midway during the Australia series after Prithvi Shaw suffered an ankle injury and seasoned opener Murali Vijay was going through a harrowing run, Agarwal lit up the intimidating MCG with a 76 in his debut innings. He scored 77 in the fourth Test and those two innings showed how much he craved to don the Indian colours, like many of his state-mates had during this decade.
The West Indies series didn’t go according to his plans but this current series against South Africa has been a statement of intent from Agarwal. After smashing 215 in the opening Test he hit a stroke-filled 108 in the ongoing second game to button down his place in the side for a foreseeable future.
The brilliant aspect of Agarwal is how consistently he’s been putting lessons learnt in the ‘nets’ to out there in the middle. The shot selections that was seen during his second coming is evident in this series as well. He’s curbed his attacking instincts at the start and then taken the attack to the spinners — his strength. There have been instances of flashiness but it’s been calculated risk-taking.
“You can’t be too defensive as a batsman and Mayank is not one of them,” opined Arun Kumar. “Mayank has picked the right bowlers to attack. He was exceptional against the spinners and the medium pacers in the domestic circuit and he’s shown that in this series too. He’s worked a lot in getting that combination right. We all know one bad shot can get you out and Mayank is well aware of that. He first looks to play an attacking shot but the moment he senses it’s not there he doesn’t play it. It’s very hard to do that but Mayank has been successful at doing it. During that exceptional run where he scored 1000 runs in a month in 2017, he rarely curbed his attacking instincts. He’s now confident of playing those big shots.”
Arun Kumar also felt Agarwal is in good space now and that’s helping him bat a lot more positively. “Virat Kohli is a very naturally aggressive captain and player and that’s rubbing onto Mayank. There’s always pressure when you play for your country but Mayank has taken that very well. I feel the management has given him a lot of confidence and that’s showing in his batting. Mayank has done the hard yards and he’s now feeling very confident about himself.”
Agarwal indeed is reaping the rewards of a strong foundation. But just like his close friend KL Rahul, who too built a strong base but has now lost his place in the Test side due to a prolonged poor run, he needs to keep building on it. For the moment, he looks determined to do so.