The Indian cricket team were for long in search of an allrounder of the caliber of the legendary Kapil Dev. The Haryana Hurricane's menacing bowling, dependable batting as well as his leadership ability have been for long missing in the squad. The search still continues.
Ajit Agarkar came in as a bowler primarily, however, a few good knocks with the bat gave signs of a potentially budding all-rounder. Also, his ability to reverse the old white ball and at times cleaning the tail up with yorkers were greeted with admiration by fans initially. Yet he faded away from mainstream cricket after multiple brief hiatuses. Ajit Agarkar, the cricketer was an enigma at times.
With a free-flowing and simple action and capacity to swing the new and old balls at a reasonable pace, he burst into the international scene in 1998 and before people knew what had happened, he had captured 50 wickets in 23 matches- still an Indian record. He is also the fastest Indian to 150, 200 and 250 one day international wickets. He held the record for fastest 100 wickets before Zaheer Khan and then Irfan Pathan subsequently broke it. His ability with the bat first came to the fore when he cracked a 12 ball 26 against Sri Lanka in 1998 taking India past the line from an almost hopeless position even after skipper Mohammed Azharuddin had scored 93.
Injury concerns and a rare knack of bowling the worst and best balls in the same over meant that if he was wicketless, he would leak runs although he seldom went wicketless before an injury forced him to take a break. He had to wait for a 5 wicket haul for a long time. His match-winning 6-41 against Australia at Adelaide after Rahul Dravid’s double century secured India a win and a lead in the test series in 2003-04.
Meanwhile, his ability to score runs with the bat was on display. Zimbabwe were treated with disdain when he plundered 67 of 26 balls in 2000 at Rajkot. His fifty came off 21 balls which is still an Indian record for fastest fifty in an ODI. He was tried as a pinch hitter when West Indies toured India in 2002 and scored 95 of 102 balls coming in at No 3. He even scored a century in a test match at Lords which went in vain - the match was almost decided in England’s favor when he came in to bat.
His fielding and agility are also worth mentioning - the catch of Marvan Atapattu in the first final of ICC Champions trophy standing at short square leg was astonishing. He also played his part well in the series against Sri Lanka (Super Sub Rule was tried in the series) in 2005 getting a 5 wicket haul in a game.
With other fast bowlers coming into the team and Agarkar’s inability to get wickets or contain runs, he was dropped and even tagged 'Mumbai Quota' at times. Certain incidents such as his selection to have a Mumbai player in the squad (as Sachin Tendulkar was injured) did not go well with his critics. Anyway, He could not cement a place in the test side at all as there were very few notable performances.
The advent of T20 and the victory in the first world cup of which Agarkar was a part called for changes in the team. Young guns were asked to be given more chances. As the format evolved, tactics and strategies changed and soon Agarkar was ignored by the selectors. He continued to be a force in domestic cricket and eventually led Mumbai to a Ranji trophy title too.
How Ajit Agarkar could not continue to excel in cricket remains a mystery at times. Perhaps his frequent injuries (sunstrokes were common) and loss of form when it mattered were factors. The wicket of Kallis at Ireland and his inswinging deliveries to left-handers continue to remain etched in memory for those who followed him. He also had a unique ability to remain modest whenever he was successful.
It is quite unfortunate that someone like him is remembered more for a few consecutive ducks rather than for being what has been already mentioned. He still is the third highest wicket-taker for India in ODIs. With a little luck, he would have scaled greater peaks.