After waiting on the fringes for long, Mayank Agarwal finally got his chance in Australia during the recently-concluded Test series and he did not fail to grab the opportunity with both hands.
Drafted into the squad after the first two Tests, the 27-year-old rose to the occasion with scores of 77, 76 and 42 in Melbourne and Sydney, playing a crucial hand in India’s maiden Test series triumph Down Under.
And now, not for the first time in his career, he is dealing with comparisons with Virender Sehwag. Among those who have compared him with Najab of Najafgarh are former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar and his personal coach Irfan Sait.
Agarwal says he will be happy if he could do even half of what the former India opener achieved in his illustrious career.
“Honestly, I am not a fan of comparisons but he is one of the greats of Indian cricket. I just like to go in the middle, give my best and see what comes out of it. Having said that, if I could do even half of what he [Sehwag] did, I will be happy,” the Karnataka batsman told PTI after returning home.
It was a lucky break for Agarwal in the series as Prithvi Shaw, initially in the squad, was injured and openers KL Rahul and Murali Vijay dropped from the side after drop in form after two Tests.
The Ranji star accepted that facing the likes of Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc was as tough a challenge as he found in his debut innings on Boxing Day.
“Definitely, it was (special), to make my debut at the MCG and most importantly, to win the Test series in Australia. We became the first team from the sub-continent to win a series in Australia. There can’t be a better start than this,” said Agarwal.
This was not the first time Agarwal was picked in the squad. He was part of the squad which played West Indies in a home Test series but did not get any playtime.
Asked about his mind-set going into the Melbourne game, Agarwal said, “I was very excited that I have been called to represent India in Australia in a well poised series. My thought was I want to be a part of the action than sit out. When I got the call from the selectors, I was very excited. It is a big moment for any cricketer, more so if you do that in MCG on Boxing Day.”
Agarwal said the ‘A’ side tour of New Zealand preceding the Australia series also helped him in his accidental debut.
“I went there with a plan and I am glad it came off for a bit. I thought Australia was a top-class bowling unit. They play their cricket hard and bring out the best in you. You can’t pick out a bowler. Everyone was good and you have to be on top of your game to face them.
“Playing in New Zealand did help a lot. It was a tremendous learning experience. The conditions weren’t same but similar to Australia. There was a lot of pace in the wickets and New Zealand A had international bowlers in their line-up. So, it was good that I got to play there before the Australia series.”
After a strong performance in Australia, Agarwal is now a strong contender for the opening slot on India’s tour of West Indies after the World Cup in July. However, Agarwal is not ready to jump the gun.
“See that [West Indies series] is six months away. I don’t want to speak about that but there is a lot of other stuff [Ranji Trophy, A series and IPL] which is going to happen before that and I am focused on that.
“I just want go out there and keep performing. Before I left [for home from Australia], they [Kohli and Ravi Shastri] congratulated me on a good performance. They also said that it is a good start and were happy with the intensity I showed. I feel good about that and yes, happy with the way things have gone so far,” said Agarwal.
He still thinks about the aerial shot he played off Nathan Lyon in the Sydney Test when he was cruising on 77 off 111 balls. Agarwal went for another big one but ended up being caught in the deep to miss out on a hundred.
“I was disappointed. If I can go out and learn from that shot, it will be a good lesson learnt. At the same time, I don’t want to dwell too much on it and be stuck there. I need to look forward and get better.
Before getting his due, Agarwal was ignored for India selection despite making mountains of runs in domestic cricket and at the A level. Now that he has got his big breakthrough, Agarwal can only feel grateful.
“To be honest. I would just like to say that everyone’s journey is different. I cannot compare my journey to somebody else’s. There are things which are beyond your control and I don’t like to focus too much on them. I am just glad and grateful that I have got to represent the country,” he added.
(With PTI inputs)