Mayank strikes the perfect note before SA tour

After failing to impress in the first Test, Mayank Agarwal’s solid knock of 150 in the second Test might just be enough to open many more opportunities for him in team India 

Mayank Anurag Agarwal has to thank his stars for getting an opportunity to play both Tests against New Zealand. Had both in-form first-choice openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul been available for selection, he would have found himself serving water on the ropes.

Had both KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma been available for selection, there was hardly any doubt that they would have opened the innings after having done extremely well in testing conditions in England. He also knew it well that had it not been for a hamstring injury to vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, it would have been a toss-up between him and Cheteshwar Pujara for the opening slot. 

Having failed to score big in the first Kanpur Test, it was now-or-never for the 30-year-old Bengaluru opener at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium’s turning pitch. He could well see that his further selection in the Team India for the South Africa tour or subsequently would rest on the next five days in Mumbai. 

But Mayank was certain that there is only one thing that could tackle any ifs and buts around his cricketing career? And that is his solid batting technique which was instrumental in getting him this far in his career.

This is another thing that the same technique has been failing him in recent times. After a great start to his Test career, where he scored 872 runs in the first nine games, including a fine 76 and 42 at his debut at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2018, Mayank scored just one 50 in the last six Tests since the start of 2020. During this period, he got out six times with a single-digit score. 

But it was his mode of dismissals that was a cause of worry for him as many technical flaws came forth during this time. That’s how young opener Shubman Gill was getting more attention during the last tour to Australia. Shubman’s opening stands along with Rohit Sharma during the tour virtually brought Mayank’s career to a standstill. His fate also started deserting him during the time when he was sent home from England after an injury and KL Rahul got the opportunity to play in the absence of injured Shubman. 

There was no looking back for Rahul as he stole the show in England with many stellar performances. The situation was looking grim for Mayank at that time. But as luck would have it, the Karnataka opener got this one last opportunity after injuries to every other settled opening contender.

Heartbreak in Kanpur, where he scored 13 and 17, made Mayank even more determined to grab the chance in the second Test. His animated jump as he completed his fourth ton in his Test career by playing a solid extra cover drive off Kiwi bowler Daryl Mitchell was an expression of a relieved man. All that talk of technical flaws was put to rest during his well-crafted knock of 150 in the first innings. 

And don’t forget that Mayank was playing on the same track where Kiwi left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel was creating history by taking all 10 wickets from the other end. On a track that was playing slow, Mayank displayed his old temperament by leaving balls away from his territory. His defense was solid and once he settled down after initial hesitation, Mayank played shots with authority. In fact, he was the only one to have not given any chance to Ajaz all this while. 

Ajaz’s domination was such that no other Indian batter got a 50 on Day One, and India’s most experienced batsmen, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara even failed to open their accounts. Team India desperately needed someone with good technique to counter Ajaz and Mayank displayed the same temperament and technique to help his team put on a solid total.

All this was possible because Mayank got some fine tips from none other than batting maestro Sunil Gavaskar. It was just before the Mumbai Test that Gavaskar had told him to keep his bat low at the start of his innings. Not to forget that Mayank hangs his bat up and high to negotiate the swinging ball. 

The 30-year-old did listen to Gavaskar’s advice and it showed in his application. His impact was such that he was adjudged man-of-the-match despite Ajaz’s 10-wicket haul in the first innings. He followed that up with a 62-run innings in the second essay after his 150 in the first. 

 

What next?

At a time when Team India has many contenders for the opening slot, Mayank’s century may not guarantee him a regular place in the squad. However, the gray shadows over his career would certainly be over and he is most likely to be taking the flight to South Africa later this month. 

In a likely scenario where Rohit and Rahul are also certain to be back in business, Mayank may again have to wait for his next chance to open the innings. But his solid technique may open up a few other options for him, who knows?

With Cheteshwar Pujara having failed to score big runs in the last two seasons and skipper Virat Kohli also failing to score a century since January 2019, Mayank’s technical superiority could well open up a new possibility on the fast South African pitches. Who knows if team management prefers to give in-form Mayank a chance to take Pujara’s No 3 slot?

Both Mayank and Rahul could play at No 3 if team management decides to go with form rather than reputation. With Ajinkya Rahane also struggling with form and has no certainty to be either in the team, Indian team management or for that matter the selectors will have to take this call sooner than later. There could not be any better chance than this when Mayank stands with the second-best Test average at home, of 93.37, only after Sir Don Bradman.

(Cover: Mayank Agarwal of India bats during day three of the First Test match between New Zealand and India Getty Images)

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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