Unconventional Agarwal’s stellar rise

India's Mayank Agarwal acknowledges the crowd as he walks back to the pavilion after getting out on the second day of the first Test against South Africa. PTI

One of the toughest jobs in world cricket at the moment is the role of an opener. Top teams like England, Australia and South Africa have been having some serious issues for more than a year now. India have been no different but in Mayank Agarwal, at least for the time being, they have an assured batsman at the top of the order.

While his useful knocks in Australia had given glimpses of his talent, Thursday’s 215 showed his unlimited range. Not too long though Agarwal’s career appeared headed nowhere when, following his U-19 World Cup appearance for India in 2010, he failed to build on it. He was even dropped from the senior Karnataka squad.

In an attempt to resurrect his young but sagging career, Agarwal adopted some unconventional means like meditation, long-distance runs and more importantly he found a coach in ‘RX’ Murali who he can lean on and trust wholeheartedly.

“For me a lot of long distance running has helped me,” said the shy Agarwal, a man of few words. “Before the start of the 2017-18 season, I had worked on specific areas with my coach Murali sir. We batted for 5-6 hours. We will bat for two and a half hours and then rest for a while and bat again. It is just preparing to play long hours which has helped me along with long-distance running.”

The results slowly but surely began show up and soon he was among one of the fringe players to break into the Indian side on the back of his big scores on domestic cricket and ‘A’ teams. In his very first tour in Australia early this year, he stamped his class with two half-centuries in four innings that oozed with unusual confidence for a debutante. 

The success, however, soon raised his own expectations and on his next tour - West Indies - the pressure had a negative impact on his batting. 

“It was never a technical issue,” Murali told DH about Agarwal’s struggles in West Indies. “It was more to do with his mental strength. Australia happened out of the blue and he didn’t have time to think about it. But after his success there, there were a lot of expectations.

“Expectations from others and self expectations as well. You are always looking for that approval and appreciation from people and team-mates alike. So when you don’t match that expectation, you are always under pressure. Any player coming into the Indian team will go through that,” Murali elaborated.    

Agarwal, though, showed he is quick learner with an epic knock. He looked determined to nail a big one after a few missed opportunities. Well aware of how strong the competition for places is in the Indian side — his close friend KL Rahul is now out of the Test side following a string of poor scores — Agarwal wanted to get a big one. The long hours he spends at the nets was on display on a hot and humid Thursday. His shot-selection was immaculate, barely allowing complacency to creep in and cut open the South Africa without any violence or anger.

“His focus is on consistency and he knows once he maintains that, big scores will come,” Murali nored. “It’s true he had the chances to get the big knocks (before) but he was still getting useful runs. He has gone through a very tough phase. He was woefully out of form three seasons back and that has taught him a lot. He never likes to go back to that phase. So he makes sure he keeps scoring loads of runs and naturally, big scores are part of it.”

With several openers being tried by India in the last couple of years, there could be a fear of failure. But Agarwal said he’s only focussed on the present.


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