Ahead of the Boxing Day Test here, festivities began on Sunday. Combined with Christmas celebrations, it is a gala time in Melbourne, especially for the Indian community for they get a chance to be up and close with their cricketing stars.
At the Sunday festival on the lawns of MCG then, the Indian players were called up on stage one by one. They didn’t need any introduction but these are necessary formalities. The loudest cheers were reserved for Virat Kohli of course – who doesn’t know him?
When Mayank Agarwal came on stage though, no one could recognize him. Why would they? He is yet to make his international debut, and even if he has scored bucket-load of runs in domestic cricket, that isn’t enough to get you mighty and famous. The only thing those runs can do is get you in the eyes of national selectors and then it is up to luck and opportunity coming your way.
Fate can be cruel though, and for Agarwal, it has been nothing less. When India first dropped an opener in the middle of the England tour, Prithvi Shaw came to the fore because he had done well for India A in the English summer. He scored 250 runs in two First-Class matches and got a ticket to the Test squad. Subsequently, he made his Test debut against West Indies.
Agarwal had only scored 69 runs in two matches on that India A tour, and 68 of them had come in one out of four innings. It wasn’t enough to convince for an immediate call-up, even as there were no vacancies. But for the home series, he did get a nod for the Test squad and still lost out to a senior batsman – KL Rahul. You see the latter was given a long rope on account of his hundred in the Oval Test.
That rope has now stretched to Australia, wherein Rahul has had a shocking time in the first two Tests. Scores of 2, 44, 2 and 0 show he is nowhere close to his best form, but more than that, the manner of dismissals is worrisome. He looked to attack too much too early in the Adelaide Test, and in Perth, on a hard, bouncy and cracked-up pitch, his technique was all at sea. Rahul tried to play two shots on one delivery in each innings, resulting in horrifying dismissals.
Assuming Shaw had been available, and scoring runs in the first two Tests, then Rahul would have been a sitting duck in terms of selection. But this is not the case as everyone knows. Shaw was never in contention thanks to his ankle injury, and it gave Murali Vijay a lifeboat to climb on and save his international career’s downward spiral. Only, it hasn’t worked out too well for the 34-year-old Tamil Nadu opener.
In four innings thus far, Vijay has scored 11, 18, 0 and 20, totalling only one more run than Rahul’s tally for this series. More than that though, it is hard to tell who of the two has had a more torrid time at the crease in the first two Tests. If Rahul has been confused in shot selection and looked short of confidence, Vijay isn’t riding a strong wave either and has looked shaky in technique as well.
The problem herein is that both Rahul and Vijay have looked to force the issue with their poor form. If this were a home series, both would have struck form by now – you play one attacking innings in four and it will help you score enough runs to save your spot in the playing eleven for the short term. In that time span, you can work on your defensive shortcomings and regain form again.
In overseas conditions, it isn’t easy to use this approach. Rahul tried attacking in the second innings at Adelaide, but it only worked for that short time, and in that innings alone. He couldn’t have possibly attacked in Perth given a tougher pitch. The same goes for Vijay. He has looked to overcome teething problems in timing by going on the offensive too soon and paid the price.
So, the question to ask here is this – who do you leave out?
For age alone and given how he has looked short of confidence in both England as well as Australia, Vijay is the one that ought to be left out. If you think aloud for a moment and wonder if he will be back playing in Australia (or any other overseas tour), then the answer is no. Hence, give Agarwal his shot now and even if he fails in the next two Tests, at least it will be a learning curve for the future.
It would mean that Rahul will once again get an opportunity, but only just. Clearly the team management has given him a long rope, like the one afforded to Rohit Sharma. It is now up to him to use it, and maybe the presence of his Karnataka teammate at the other end might just bring about a change in fortune for Rahul.Also by the author: The mistakes that cost Kohli & co. at Brisbane