MAYANK AGARWAL: BREAKING DOORS DOWN
The Come Up
Mayank Agarwal studied at the Bishop Cotton Boys’ School in Bengaluru, an institution that boasts of the late English captain Sir Colin Cowdrey and Brijesh Patel amongst its illustrious alumni to have gone on and played international cricket. His is a story of breaking down doors with sheer merit making all the noise. While the 28-year old has often talked about Virender Sehwag being his role model, when one examines his game, they would realize that Agarwal’s game is much more two-paced in comparison to his destructive idol. The Bangalore-bon batsman has the ability to be as technically proficient as he is devastating in his stroke-play and all of this has taken time for him to develop.
From his early teenage days, there was immense adulation for the elegance that he brought to the table and the sheer speed at which he could score runs. He came into prominence during the Cooch Behar Trophy in 2008-09 and subsequently put on stellar performances in the U-19 World Cup which saw him steal the limelight and be considered as one of the most promising batting prospects on the rise in the Indian domestic scene. His ascent coincided with the meteoric rise of the Indian Premier League and his displays brought him into the reckoning for an IPL contract which was duly signed with the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise. This was certainly a major leap forward for the prodigious Agarwal and turned out to be a real learning curve.
Mayank was always viewed as a swashbuckling opener who could smash the ball to all areas of the ground and score quite quickly on his day. There were flashes of his caliber on display but they were at times tinged with some frustration as he did get starts but wasn’t being able to convert them on a regular basis. Nevertheless, his white-ball game was definitely showing steady and consistent progress and he moved on to the Delhi Daredevils in 2014.
On the domestic front, Agarwal was in the running to open for his state of Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy for the 2014-15 season but was benched midway through the season due to concerns over his fitness. In the words of his mentor Rahul Dravid, this was a massive wake-up call for him as this transformed the lad from a young man to a battle-hardened professional. The silky stroke player often recalls the fact that he wasn’t the biggest fan of running as an activity and yet this one dislike was turned into such a strength by the mentally resolute Agarwal, so much so that we hear him crediting his tough sessions on the treadmills and out in the field as one of the major factors enabling him to thrive in the longer formats of the game.
He regained his spot in the team and went on to score his maiden first-class hundred in the following season. This lit the fire that observers see in Agarwal to this day as he never looked back to the point where it almost became a rhetorical question from the 2016-17 season onwards on whether he was at the top of his game as Agarwal was always up there with the cream of the cop of run-getters, be it red ball cricket or white ball cricket.
2017-18: A Season of His Dreams
As it is for each and every cricketer across the nation, Agarwal too must have dreamt of donning the Indian colors and turning out for the national side one day. To get to an honor of such proportions, the mercurial batsman put in arguably the finest batting performance that has ever been seen in Indian domestic cricket in the 2017-18 season.
Even to be able to mention his name amongst the pantheon of legendary batsmen who have played domestic cricket in India is in itself a stupendous achievement and Agarwal surely does merit a mention. A loud and clear one while one’s at it.
Paradoxically, he started the season with a pair in the first match against Hyderabad and it was the third match of the season when he finally came to the party with a triple century against Maharashtra. The rest as they say is history as he would go on to hit four more centuries and two half centuries, amassing a staggering 1160 runs at an unbelievable average of 105.45.
Agarwal then translated his Ranji form into white ball cricket as he scored 258 runs in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (T20s) at a strike rate of 144.5 which is simply unheard of. Not content with just the 20-over format, he was also the top run-getter in the 50-over domestic tournament as he bossed proceedings in the Vijay Hazare trophy scoring at an average of 92 in the 2017-18 season. All in all, he scored a mammoth 2,141 runs across all formats and in doing so, he broke all previous records for the all-time top run scorers in a season.
This was such an amazing feat that it only brought him national recognition but also won him a contract with the Kings XI Punjab franchise in the IPL. It simply seemed like a matter of time before Agarwal would get a call up to the national side as he hadn’t simply been knocking on the door of the national team, he had broken down the door and then ripped it off its hinges.
The Debut at the Cauldron
India toured South Africa, England and Australia, one after the other in 2018 and as luck would have it, the opening combinations of Murali Vijay, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan couldn’t do much to solidify their spots in the team. For Agarwal, it was all down to business as he started the domestic season well and even saw the young Prithvi Shaw make a century on debut in the Rajkot Test Match against the West Indies in October 2018. Biding his time, Mayank’s unbreakably concentration on his game stemmed from perhaps being quietly confident that his call up would come sooner rather than later and it did. T
he baffling aspect for Agarwal must have been the timing as an unfortunate injury ruled Shaw out of the Australian tour and he was called up as a backup opener. As fate would have it, the opening slot was again there for the taking with both Vijay and Rahul really struggling with their confidence and form.
It really couldn’t have been more of an intimidating atmosphere for a debutant to make his debut at the MCG infront of 70,000 spectators in the Boxing Day Test of 2018. If there were nerves, he didn’t let us see them and played like he had been batting at that level all his life.
The fluent stroke-play, the beautiful drives and the way he tackled Nathan Lyon, who up until then had been the biggest challenge to the Indian batsmen was simply mesmerizing. One often harks back to the shot he played stepping down the wicket and lofting Lyon back over his head for a six, showing the entire batting line-up on how the astute spinner could be put under the cosh. The debutant ended up with a classy 76 and certainly belonged at the highest level.
The Story Beyond
He has gone on to impress the Indian fans even further post that debut at the MCG and played adeptly on tough tracks in the West Indies this summer. His most memorable knock to date was his impeccable 215 against South Africa at Visakhapatnam in October 2019, which incidentally was his first Test Innings in India.
He along with Rohit Sharma scripted a memorable opening stand with the former scoring a sublime 176. Agarwal, however looked like a man who could not be tamed by the Proteas bowlers as he followed that double-ton up with another century in Pune in the second test. As things stand, one can only applaud Agarwal for rising to the occasion and showing signs of cementing his spot as the days progress.
One hopes that the hunger, grit, desire and sheer doggedness shown by Mayank Agarwal is here to stay because watching him succeed gives hope to the everyday person going about their lives, putting in the yards that success does follow when the effort is made in the right direction. At 28 years of age, the gifted batsman has certainly proved the power of perseverance is second to none. All one need is patience and drive, things Mayank Agarwal has in truckloads.