Mayank Agarwal was on 67, during Karnataka’s round one Vijay Hazare Trophy match against Jammu & Kashmir on Thursday in Ahmedabad, when Abdul Samad tested him in the block hole.
Fighting his high back lift, of which he has been guilty in the past, Agarwal somehow dug out the yorker but chipped it towards Qamran Iqbal at cover. The fielder’s dive to his left got him to the ball but was not enough to hold onto it.
As the ball popped out, Agarwal scampered to the non-striker’s end, where he put his head down, took a second to himself, and hit the reset button.
A few overs earlier, a delivery from Umran Malik had crept under Agarwal’s drive which, going by Malik’s disbelief upon the umpire’s denial of his appeal, made a solid case for a leg-before.
“The wicket was a little slow at times. Some lengths were not very easy. But the plan was to stay disciplined and pick the balls to score off,” Agarwal said after the match.
On such a pitch, under ordinary circumstances, an innings worth 67 would have been good enough. His opening association with Samarth R was inching towards 150, and it was already a job well done by the Karnataka captain.
The circumstances, however, demand more than just good enough from Agarwal. For a Test opener who has seen his slide in the pecking order in the Indian team, only eye-catching makes the cut.
Unlike his essay against J&K, Agarwal’s fight to reinstate his position in the national setup does not afford the luxury of picking moments. Every tournament must reinforce his bid for a comeback.
His 990 runs in the Ranji Trophy last season at 82.50, the highest in the edition, gave a peep into that desperation. The 341 in the Deodhar Trophy, second to only Riyan Parag’s 354, earlier this year, were cut from the same cloth.
Agarwal’s last Test appearance came in March 2022 during Sri Lanka’s tour of India. The team management subsequently went ahead with Shubman Gill and Yashasvi Jaiswal for the tours to Bangladesh and West Indies, respectively, who repaid the faith with centuries. The duo’s prolific Indian Premier League (IPL) record further helped their cause.
After nearly two years on the sidelines, it would take an optimist to ride on List A tournaments and gun for a comeback in the longest format over two highly touted youngsters. However, at 32, Agarwal can still afford to be one.
“My thought is always, ‘whenever I get on the ground, I want to score runs’. I want to win matches for my team, whatever comes from that comes. I am somebody who looks to take it one game at a time. I truly believe what has to be will take care of itself,” he said.
The reprieve on Thursday probably flicked that switch for Agarwal, convincing him to go big. The prudence made way for proactivity as Agarwal decided to switch gears.
Agarwal’s charge was initially reserved for the spinners, who he plundered by charging down and getting to the pitch of the ball. To negotiate the low bounce against the pacers, Agarwal single-mindedly curtailed his shots square of the wicket.
“[We wanted to] Give ourselves time to get set. Once we got a good measure of the wicket, we expanded and played the cricket we wanted to,” he said.
The siege started with Yudhvir Singh’s over, the 30th of the innings, before Agarwal tore down J&K’s pace ace Malik. In the 36th over, Agarwal moved to a ton with a drive that bisected the mid-on and cover fielders and followed it up with a six back over Malik’s head.
Agarwal topped it off with a lean-back ramp shot in reply to a bouncer from Malik. Of the eight bowlers used by J&K, Agarwal collected the most runs off Malik (40). By the time Sahil Lotra produced a delivery that got the better of Agarwal, he had put his side on course for 400.
His 133-ball 157 added weight to the case he has been putting forth since last season. That is about as much as one can do. “Theek thaak run bana diye hain, yaar (I’ve scored a decent amount of runs),” he chuckled after the match.
With at least six more games left for Karnataka in the competition, Agarwal would hope to add some more.
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