Fifteenth November is a special day in Indian cricket, especially the revered school of Indian batsmanship. It was on this day, 50 years ago, that Gundappa Viswanath made his maiden bow for the country. 20 years later, on the same day, began India’s all-time favourite legend, Sachin Tendulkar.
In his brief foray in international cricket, as indeed through his years of toil in the domestic circuit, Mayank Agarwal has caught the eye with his sense of timing; how fitting, then, that he timed his ascent into that venerable school of Indian batsmanship on this very day.
I get what you’re thinking right now. Isn’t that a bit of a stretch? And if double hundreds on favourable surfaces are the parameter, didn’t he score another (possibly more impressive) one just recently against South Africa?
There is no debate on the first of those doubts – you don’t start comparing a guy in his first year in the game with all-time greats, and at no point through this piece will that thought even be considered.
The second doubt, though, is where this author will push for a case. You see, impressive as the 215 at Vizag was, when it happens once, any occurrence – good or bad, hit or flop – can be passed off as a matter of chance. When it happens twice? Twice in a career only spanning eight Tests? Twice in the span of six weeks? That’s when you’re on to something special.
In this sport, in particular its 142-year variant, you know you’re doing something right when you join, even temporarily, any league that once had a certain Don Bradman as its member. In getting to his second double century in just his eighth Test, Agarwal has emulated the great Don – by reaching there in his 12th innings, he’s even gone a step ahead. This ‘league’, of two Test doubles in the first eight matches of a career, only has one other participant. He actually got there in just five Tests, but more on him later.
Speaking of lofty marks so early into his entry to the big stage, Agarwal now also joins another quite-exclusive club. Virender Sehwag, Sunil Gavaskar, Vinoo Mankad, Wasim Jaffer, Mayank Agarwal: That’s all the Indian batsmen to have hit two double hundreds as Test openers. Of that list, only the first two names managed more than two – Sehwag’s six Test doubles came from 170 innings as opener, Gavaskar’s three spanned 203 innings.
It’s one happy conversion rate Agarwal has notched up in his nascent stages as a Test cricketer –Indian opening batsmen have reached 150 on a total of 59 occasions in Tests, but only 21 of those have actually been converted into double tons.
Why it doesn’t come as a surprise, if you’ve watched the 28-year-old closely enough, is two-fold: A) If you’ve seen him climb the domestic ladder, you know he’s addicted to runs (Two years ago, in the month of November alone, Agarwal amassed 1000 runs). B) If you’ve seen the way he’s gone about his batting since being handed the Indian opening slot, you know he’s always setting himself up to set his team up.
In eight Tests, Agarwal’s first innings scores read 76, 77, 5, 55, 215, 108, 10 and 243. That’s 791 runs in eight innings at an average of 98.87, with six 50-plus knocks.
When he hit his first hundred – like this most recent one, also a double – this author made a reference to the hours of commuting the Bengaluru boy did on a daily basis in his city in the years that made him the run-scoring behemoth the world now knows him as.
It was mentioned then that patience was never an issue with Agarwal, and he continues to prove that.
At Vizag against South Africa, Agarwal was content playing second fiddle on the opening day as Rohit Sharma launched his second life as a Test player; against Bangladesh at Indore, Agarwal displayed no ego in seeing off the threat of Abu Jayed, and even Ebadot Hossain, despite their lack of any real Test-match experience. He wasn’t playing the bowler; he was playing the ball.
As a result, Agarwal’s final readings showed modest returns when facing the two Bangladeshi pacers: 23 off 43 balls from Jayed, 71 off 121 from Ebadot. But there was nothing modest about what the scorecard will tell you about this knock, because look what he did to the hapless spinners: 149 runs off 166 balls.
Such was his confidence in taking on Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Taijul Islam, and his mastery of footwork whenever facing spin, that he didn’t even shy from stepping down and launching one of his eight hits into the stands to get to 200. You can bet Sehwag would be a proud man!
Then you think of Sehwag, and all his accomplishments as a Test opener, and you begin to see another facet to Agarwal’s game; for someone whose patience is correctly lauded as a standout trait, he’s proving himself to be one heck of a big-hitter too – and if Sehwag’s revolutionary years at the top of the order are any reminder, that is a seismic combination for an individual to possess.
Fun fact: Sehwag hit six or more sixes twice in 180 innings – Agarwal has matched that feat in 12 innings.
One could accept that this, clearly, wasn’t a rather stern examination by way of opposition, and one would also have to admit that it wasn’t a chanceless effort either: Imrul Kayes shelled quite the dolly when Agarwal had only reached 32.
But in achieving what he eventually did – and raking up the kind of numbers he already has – Mayank Agarwal has further laid to rest one of Indian cricket’s longest-standing troubles in this form of the game. Remember, when he made his debut, less than 11 months ago, India were sending a rank fresher and a middle-order batsman out to open the batting on day one of a Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
Now, India can breathe easy about their Test openers – at least one, and surely two if Rohit can have a good outing in New Zealand. That hasn’t happened in Indian Test cricket since that man Sehwag left the building, has it?
Let’s complete that list of batsmen with two Test double centuries in their first eight Tests, shall we? First Don Bradman, now Mayank Agarwal… in the middle – Vinod Kambli.
Bradman and Kambli. Pretty much the two extremes that one can go to (in terms of end outcome) when examining the sample of prodigious talents in the history of cricket.
Agarwal needn’t worry about either extreme. No one is expecting a Bradman here; no one in their right minds would predict a Kambli-like fizzle either. You know the years, you know the story, you know all the waiting: Mayank Agarwal isn’t going to give it up.
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As part of the plan, CWI board director Dr Akshai Mansingh and the board's security manager Paul Slowewill will visit Dhaka and Chittagong next week to inspect the BCB's bio-security plans and health protocols in the country.
The in-form Mayank Agarwal is likely to open with Shikhar Dhawan in Rohit's absence in the ODI series beginning Friday.
Rohit, who is nursing a hamstring injury, is out of white ball series and is still doubtful starter for Test matches while skipper Kohli will be on paternity leave after the first Day/Night Test in Adelaide.