“When you are in form, make it count.”
That was the message from India greats VVS Laxman and Sunil Gavaskar to Mayank Agarwal when they were analysing the Indian opener’s exploits in Indore. It is the result of that hunger for runs that saw the Karnataka batsman break the door down and force his way into the Indian Test cricket team. His superb start to life as a Test opener got even better in the first Test against Bangladesh, when he became the second quickest ever to score two Test double centuries since debut. It has taken just eight Tests for Agarwal to get there, even quicker than Sir Donald Bradman. Only Vinod Kambli’s extraordinary start to his Test career is better than Agarwal’s.
What stood out in Indore, apart from the desire to score big runs, is how quickly he can accelerate when set. It is for a reason that he was considered a player of the Virender Sehwag-mould when he first burst onto the scene.
And Agarwal’s attacking game in Tests could open the door for his selection in India’s limited overs squads for the assignments against West Indies next month, reported PTI on Sunday.
All format game
There is a school of thought that Agarwal could be an option as an opener, preferably for the three-match One-Day International series against the West Indies in December, in case vice-captain Rohit Sharma takes a break to rejuvenate himself ahead of the big away tour of New Zealand early next year.
Sharma has been continuously playing for a while now and the only break he got was the two Test matches in the West Indies. The Indian vice-captain in white-ball cricket will be integral to the team’s plans across formats during the New Zealand tour when they will play five T20 Internationals, three ODIs and two Tests.
For the limited overs matches against West Indies, it will only be fair if the selectors think of giving Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri another option in Agarwal, who has a fantastic List-A record of 13 hundreds at a 50-plus average and 100-plus strike-rate. He showed good form during Indian Premier League 2019 as well at the top of the order for Kings XI Punjab, even if it was a bit hot and cold. He still had his best season in the IPL so far, scoring 332 runs (with two half centuries) in 13 matches at a strike rate of 141.88.
One more factor that could go in Agarwal’s favour is Shikhar Dhawan’s prolonged bad patch and the need to have another back-up option, apart from KL Rahul, ready.
Agarwal was sent as a late replacement for Vijay Shankar during the World Cup and though he did not get a game in the United Kingdom, the move was an indicator that the Karnataka batsman, for his attacking game, is also in the selectors’ white ball scheme of things.
Agarwal could be seen as a long-term option keeping in mind the 2023 ODI World Cup in India, as Dhawan, given his deteriorating form, might not be a feasible option till then, his ICC events form notwithstanding.
Former India player and cricket analyst Deep Dasgupta sees no harm in trying out Agarwal in the shorter formats, and the bilateral series against the West Indies could be the right platform.
“It would be a great thing if the Indian team management has Mayank in mind as an opening option. In fact, he is a natural white ball player, who has wonderfully transformed and adapted to the needs of red ball cricket,” Dasgupta said. “If you look at Mayank, his talent was never questioned. He always had the range of strokes, from drives to the horizontal bat shots. It was just that in the earlier part he was getting out playing cameos, but that is not the case anymore.”
Hunger for runs
For now, Agarwal has impressed one and all with his desire to just keep going. He said in one of the many interviews after his swashbuckling 243 against Bangladesh that he respects the fact that form is temporary in international cricket and when he is in good touch, he has to make the most of it.
Sample this: less than 24 hours after the series win against South Africa in Ranchi, Agarwal had made the long journey back to Bengaluru to play for Karnataka in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. And he played four 50-over domestic games in the break between the South Africa and Bangladesh Test series. His scores in those four matches (for Karnataka and India C) were 47*, 69*, 120 and 28. And on his return to red ball cricket, he promptly carried on from where he left off.
Purple patches like these do not come often in cricket, and it is up to the Indian selectors to make the most of Agarwal’s form when it is red-hot. A run against West Indies to end 2019 would be just reward.
(With PTI inputs)