Ajit Agarkar burst onto the scene as a unique quick bowler and raced to 50 wickets in One-Day Internationals. He could also bat a bit. And, as is natural in Indian cricket, the Kapil Dev comparisons came up. Was he the next? Could he be the seam-bowling all-rounder India were waiting for?
Then came the Test series in Australia in 1999-2000. After scoring 19 in the first innings in Adelaide, Agarkar’s next five innings read: 0, 0, 0, 0 and 0. In four of those innings, he was out first ball.
Now, he never promised to be a game-changer with the bat but he was not as bad as those innings made him look. It was a tough phase for him, because, in his words, he was bowling his best back then but somehow these ducks overshadowed that.
But, perhaps to make up for all that, the Mumbaikar — on July 29, 2002 — scored a Test century at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. He made his way to the away dressing room Honours Board at the home of cricket – Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, and Brian Lara are some of the names who never managed to add that achievement to their illustrious careers.
When he walked out to bat at Lord’s in his 19th Test innings, he had previously scored 127 runs at an average less than eight.
When he finished batting, he nearly matched his career tally in one innings: scoring 109* even as India lost the match by 170 runs. Sure, it was not a century in winning cause (not even close) but it vindicated the talent he had as a batsman. At least, it showed the world he was better than his outings in Australia showed.
“It was a bit harsh to blame me for not getting runs,” Agarkar said in the Couch Talk podcast, recalling his infamous lean patch in Australia.
“Ok, I had ability with the bat, but my priority was always bowling. No one was going to pick me for my batting alone in the Indian team, so I had to focus all my energies on bowling well. That was always the priority. When you are a bowler in India, you ask any fast bowler, it is hard work. It takes a lot out of you and it is not always easy to focus on both.
“The bowling took so much out of me, that it wasn’t always easy to put the same sort of energies into batting.”
On that final day at Lord’s, with India battling to save the Test, Agarkar – first in the company of VVS Laxman, and then with No 11 Ashish Nehra – showed he was up for a fight. He might have just delayed the inevitable but, all the same, it earned him a place alongside some famous names.
Indians to score Test centuries at Lord's
|MH Mankad||184||19||1||N/A||3||19 Jun 1952|
|DB Vengsarkar||103||13||0||34.91||3||2 Aug 1979|
|GR Viswanath||113||14||0||33.53||3||2 Aug 1979|
|DB Vengsarkar||157||21||0||59.46||3||10 Jun 1982|
|DB Vengsarkar||126*||16||0||59.15||2||5 Jun 1986|
|RJ Shastri||100||12||1||54.34||2||26 Jul 1990|
|M Azharuddin||121||22||0||109.00||2||26 Jul 1990|
|SC Ganguly||131||20||0||43.52||2||20 Jun 1996|
|AB Agarkar||109*||16||0||57.36||4||25 Jul 2002|
|R Dravid||103*||15||0||46.81||2||21 Jul 2011|
|AM Rahane||103||15||1||66.88||1||17 Jul 2014|
Recalling that Sachin Tendulkar had given him throwdowns on the final morning, Agarkar spoke to the Indian Express about the moment he reached the ton. “It was a special moment. Scoring hundred is always special and that too at number eight. Had we won, we would have been happier. We couldn’t save the Test. But a lone Test hundred came at a special place for me.”