I had just woken up when I received this call from my editor who wanted to know if I could find any resemblance between Mayank Agarwal and some of the Indian greats of the past in terms of batting style. This was the day after Mayank had scored his second Test double ton in as many months. The truth of the matter was I had not seen much of cricket of late and even though I knew Mayank had improved by leaps and bounds, I didn’t know in what aspects he had improved and that he had actually started to resemble some of the Indian master batsmen of the past.
Years ago I had watched Mayank bat for Delhi Daredevils for two full seasons (2014, 2015) and to my big disappointment, he kept getting out in similar fashion more or less: finding fielders at long-on or long-off while attempting to clear the rope.
I decided to watch the highlights packages of Mayank’s recent two double hundreds against South Africa and Bangladesh. I was hopeful he would remind me of someone, for the sake of my editor if nothing else.
To my utter disappointment Mayank resembled no one at the crease. At the same time I breathed a big sigh of relief: many a promising batsman has batted into oblivion after being compared with this great player or that player. Suresh Raina was compared with Brian Lara by no less a personage than Greg Chappell and the Indian southpaw didn’t exactly have a fulfilling career. A recent case in point is Prithvi Shaw who received comparisons with the great Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag but nowadays finds himself out of the Indian Test team.
Yes, comparisons do bring added pressure and often lead to one’s detriment. So I was glad to notice that Mayank resembled no one but had a style of his own.
He doesn’t play close to body and often does not use soft hands against fast bowlers and that leads to those outside edges we see now and then. However one aspect that particularly caught my eye was his tendency to find gaps when he wanted. The tendency to forget a good delivery, going past his bat, also came to my attention.
He embodies modern batting attitudes and techniques on all counts but one. Most of the batsmen nowadays don’t look to hit too many sixes in Test cricket and when they do more often than not they do it staying in crease with little footwork involved. Mayank is a little old-fashioned in that regard and in total contrast because when he does it he leaves the crease fearlessly against spinners and dispatches them into the stands. Mohd Azharuddin and Navjot Singh Sidhu were particularly fond of doing that but they demonstrated aggression stepping out unlike Mayank who lies in wait like a cheetah taking the spinners completely unawares.
From watching those two highlight packages it was clear to me that Mayank was playing a fearless brand of cricket which doesn’t necessarily mean aggression at the crease but actually no fear of failures. In other words, he ain’t looking at the “end”, just taking care of the “means”. He is sort of following in Rohit Sharma’s footsteps. It’s no wonder there has been talk of him replacing Rohit for the West Indies ODIs in case the Indian team management decides to rest the seasoned opener.
And that approach explains his success in the last two to three years, both domestically and internationally. Without following processes and paying much attention to results that couldn’t have been possible. There was a time when Mayank had gone off the radar on account of no real shows in domestic cricket. He returned to the spotlight by scoring profusely in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy for Karnataka at a stupendous average of 105.45. In the following Vijay Hazare Trophy that season he scored 723 runs at an unbelievable average of 90.37 and strike rate of 107.91.
Despite that when the team to England was selected he failed to make the cut. The selectors could not ignore his prolific scoring for long however and later that year he was chosen for the home Tests against the West Indies but nothing came of it as he wasn’t given any chance to prove his talent and he just warmed the bench. In the face of all this… he could have lost his morale and it wouldn’t have been surprising at all. But no, when you stop looking at the end, you don’t just give up. At last he got the opportunity to play in Australia in the Boxing Day Test. Loads of big things have happened since then for Mayank!
Scores of 76, 42,77, 5, 16, 55, 4, 215, 7, 108, 10, 243 in just eight matches (858 runs at an average of 71.50), including debuting down under and giving a good account of himself in challenging conditions there, suggest he is a special player and fans will hope he continues in this vein for many years to come.
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