In at least one aspect the Indian team at the World Cup would be totally synchronised with Macbeth’s belief that ‘If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir...’ (William Shakespeare; Macbeth: Act 1 Scene 3)
Indeed it is chance, rather than choice, that has had the Indian team stumbling onto the best possible batting line-up at the World Cup with injury dictating their destiny.
The injury to opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan was no doubt unfortunate. But in its wake, it has brought fresh legs, enthusiasm, versatility and depth to the team.
The choice of Mayank Agarwal for an injured Vijay Shankar was not only an inspired one but could positively impact India’s fortunes over the last stretch of the tournament.
Agarwal was already into serious training as he was scheduled to fly to West Indies next week with the India A team for a series of ODIs (11-21 July) and four-day matches (24 July to 9 August). Thus any doubts of him being ready for World Cup matches should be dispelled immediately.
There were two other factors that have worked very well for him. The first is that he has had very good success in England with the India ’A’ team (287 runs List A innings) and thus has the experience and record of playing well in English conditions.
But the biggest positive is his performance against a top-notch Aussie bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood (who is not in the WC squad) and Nathan Lyon in their own backyard.
Rushed to Australia as a replacement opener, Agarwal walked into bat on the first day of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne and in front of a packed stadium carved out a brilliant 76. Later, in the second innings, he was just as impressive in making a solid 42 even as wickets tumbled at the other end.
In the next Test, he made a cracking 77 to show that he was unfazed by the Aussie attack – the same one he has to tackle in this World Cup if the two sides meet in the final as expected.
Another huge advantage Agarwal enjoys is his familiarity with the dynamics of the Indian dressing room. He firmly believes that he belongs in the big league and the fellow players, who have seen him handle the Australian pace and sledging with aplomb from close quarters, are just as comfortable with him.
Strangely, before he was rushed into Tests in Australia, many had pigeon-holed him as a ‘white-ball’ cricketer. That reputation would sit well with him now!
Agarwal’s versatility comes in his dexterity with not only red and white ball cricket but also the ability to open the batting or shore up the middle order. Last IPL season, when KL Rahul and Chris Gayle were King’s XI Punjab’s preferred opening pair, Agarwal batted in the middle order and made a hefty 332 runs at a strike rate of 142.
However, the fact that the Indian team summoned Agarwal and not Ambati Rayudu, the selectors’ chosen stand-by batsman, should be a fair indication that his services would be needed at the top, rather than in the middle order. The move would free Rahul to bat at number four with the other replacement batsman Rishab Pant (for Dhawan) coming in at number five or six.
Of course, such a move would leave India with exactly five bowlers in the playing eleven. But that’s a chance they would need to take at the business end of the tournament.
Agarwal is expected to reach England just a couple of days before India’s last league match, against Sri Lanka on Saturday and that should give him sufficient time to mentally prepare himself for the task. His firm belief and ardent practice of Vipassana should come in handy.
Luckily, Agarwal may not need too much time to adapt to England’s weather, which at this time of the year, should be almost similar to that of Bangalore’s.
Additionally, the Karnataka cricketer is a brilliant fielder and would be a great asset in the outfield.
In fact, he brings a lot of positive energy with him. There’s a spring in his step, whether batting or fielding and this augurs well for the team. He loves to hit through the line and could well find his calling if the tracks are firm, as expected for the semifinals and final. Besides, if he can do the upfront hitting against the white ball it would allow Rohit Sharma to settle down and bat at his pace.
Certainly, the inclusion of Agarwal and Pant in the playing eleven should considerably lift the quality of India’s batting. Who knows it might well allow the others to bat with a freedom that seemed to be lacking of late. Watch this space.
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