It was always meant to be in Australia for Mayank Agarwal. The first headline he produced was after his scintillating 160 in Hobart playing for India U-19 against Australia as an 18-year-old. In that match, early in his innings, Alistair Mcdermott had managed to get through his defence, but such was his fortune that despite the ball clipping the stumps, the bails failed to dislodge. Nine years later, Agarwal walked out in the middle of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in front of a crowd of 70,000 fans to face his first ball in Test cricket. He was destined to succeed in Australia.
Ever since that belligerent innings in Hobart, he has always been touted as a white ball specialist. During his teens, he was slightly overweight and had a reputation of scoring runs by plundering boundaries. He was always flamboyant and the risk taker. He was the one who attracted attention with a series of crisply timed shots, but also equally capable of being reckless. Perhaps, it was that unruliness in his batting that prevented him from having an immediate impact in first-class cricket. To be precise, it had taken Agarwal nearly three years after his debut to score his first hundred in the Ranji Trophy, that too at the age of 23.
However, he was extremely focused to turn it all around and have an impact in red-ball cricket. It was only during the 2015-16 season that he set his eyes to be a formidable cricketer for Karnataka in the first-class format. In the next two years, he shed a few kilos and started to enjoy the fitness side of the game, a part of cricket he had neglected during his younger days.
Add to that, the fine-tuning of his game and worked hard on his technique. Being fitter and more disciplined allowed him to concentrate for a long time. Since the start of 2016, Agarwal had plundered over 2000 runs across all formats in domestic cricket, he had scored runs on 'A' tours, and all that was missing was an Indian cap. Despite being such a prolific scorer, Agarwal was still fifth on the pecking order by the time Indian team departed for England in June.
Come Wednesday, he had become India's No 1 opener. After a series of leaves outside the off-stump, he finally strode forward and pushed a full ball through the covers for his first runs in Test cricket. The sound of the ball hitting the willow was sweet. Agarwal would have breathed a sigh of relief. It would have settled the nerves he would have carried for the past 24 hours.
The pitch played into his hands too; after all, this was Australia, a country that had kickstarted his career all those years ago. But to Agarwal's credit, he had to overcome other challenges. Repeatedly, the Australians tried to bounce him and play on his patience, but he tackled each test with confidence.
During those prosperous three seasons for Karnataka, Agarwal spent six months of the year travelling to different parts of India and honing his skills across various styles of surfaces. He had also faced a significant amount of spin bowling. So when Nathan Lyon was introduced into the attack as early as the eight over, he wasn't fazed by the challenge.
Agarwal's footwork was precise against the wily off-spinner. He had quickly figured out that Lyon was never going to threaten the inside edge of this bat, so he ensured he was never beaten by the straighter ball from around the wicket. Agarwal's astute defence forced Lyon to toss the ball fuller. The delivery was greeted by a flat batted cover drive that resembled none other than Virat Kohli. Two overs later, he would repeat the shot.
In one over, once he had reached into the 30s, he advanced at the spinner and lofted him imperiously over mid-off for a boundary. It was a shot of confidence from a man that seemed to know his game inside out. Few overs later, he slogged Lyon over midwicket for a six.
Gradually, Agarwal eased into his comfort zone. He crossed fifty and put India into a formidable position. A couple of sweetly-timed boundaries through covers were followed by a series of flicks through the onside, as he posted the highest score for an Indian opener on debut in Australia. But just when it seemed like a hundred was there for the taking, he gloved a ball down the leg-side. Agarwal was dismissed for 76, but to be fair, Australia had been a fortunate place for him, yet again.
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