A couple of years ago on Boxing Day, in front of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground, a young strapping lad strode out, embodying the confidence and the verve that accompanies a mountain of runs in the domestic circuit. To that end, there was palpable excitement around what he could do and to a certain extent, Mayank Agarwal lived up to his billing, bagging a fifty in his maiden Test innings.
Post that, he also popped up with two more crucial essays on that tour Down Under as India completed the most revered of conquests, winning the Test series 2-1.
Consequently, plenty cast Mayank Agarwal as the cure to India’s ailments at the top of the order, not just because he had flourished under the most adverse of circumstances, but also because he had overcome the domestic grind that preceded it.
In fact, Mayank Agarwal did everything humanly possible to drive home those notions, with a hundred against South Africa at Pune sandwiched between two equally brilliant double tons. At that juncture, Mayank Agarwal had the world at his feet and his partnership with Rohit Sharma seemed capable of rattling every bowling attack across the globe.
Unfortunately, though, a string of injuries to the latter have meant that that pairing has not come to fruition very often. Rather unsurprisingly, India have also struggled, with them hitting a nadir recently, owing to their spectacular capitulation against Australia at Adelaide.
More worryingly though, there seems to be a trend centred around Mayank Agarwal’s numbers away from home – something that seemed improbable at the start of his career. And, much like India’s fortunes, those have also taken a nosedive.
Mayank Agarwal began his Test career magnificently and scored 195 runs in 3 innings during his debut series, which incidentally, was played in Australia. However, since then, Mayank Agarwal has wielded the willow away from home on 10 other occasions, with the right-hander only aggregating 208 runs.
Additionally, he has gotten out on a single-digit score 5 times, with him also not crossing the 20-run barrier on 7 instances. In turn, that has led to the Indian batting outfit not getting off to good starts, meaning that they’ve eventually lost 60% (3 out of 5) of those matches.
And, the only two victories came against an erratic West Indies side, suggesting that India haven’t particularly covered themselves in glory, especially when Mayank Agarwal has failed to get them off to decent starts.
Thus, with another installment of an India-Australia Boxing Day encounter looming, one might be pressed into the debate on why Mayank Agarwal has started struggling abroad and the challenges that he might have to tide over.
Mayank Agarwal has struggled abroad recently
Firstly, when Mayank Agarwal began his career, bowlers were inclined to bowl straight to him, considering that he usually got his front foot across to off stump.
In fact, he was also a tad guilty of falling over – something that made fast bowlers attack the stumps significantly. However, Mayank Agarwal feasted and plundered runs, courtesy his extraordinary ability to thrive on anything on the pads.
Recently though, opposition pacers have been willing to play the waiting game and have drawn Mayank Agarwal across by bowling diligent lines and lengths outside off stump. In the process, Mayank Agarwal has been forced to flash at deliveries slightly outside his stumps, considering that his primary run-scoring method has been taken away.
To be fair to him, Mayank Agarwal has never really been a batsman who seems content to leave deliveries outside off stump, often treating them with disdain. To put things into further perspective, Mayank Agarwal has always been someone boasting an attacking instinct and one wanting to take the game to the opposition. And, a first-class strike rate of nearly 60, acts as a testament to that.
However, owing to his tendency to flirt with wider deliveries, he has been found wanting, especially on tracks that have offered a shade of seam movement. Also, his proclivity to push his bat in front of his pad hasn't aided his cause.
Additionally, there exists a theory that Mayank Agarwal is perhaps more circumspect outside off stump, rather than at the stumps – something that has only contributed to newer plans being formulated by opposition bowlers.
In fact, those opinions aren’t too dumbfounded, considering that Mayank Agarwal has been caught behind 4 times in 19 innings. More damningly, he has been dismissed in the slip cordon on five further occasions, thereby taking the tally of dismissals behind the stumps to 9, which is a shade under 50%.
Furthermore, with fast bowlers content to dangle the carrot outside off stump, the incoming delivery also becomes a lot more dangerous, considering that Mayank Agarwal hasn’t been totally ready for it.
Since Mayank Agarwal’s batting technique has been dissected, he has been dismissed LBW or been bowled three times in his four previous innings. Overall, he has been bowled or been trapped LBW on only 6 occasions in his Test career. Thus, the recent travails highlight that Mayank Agarwal might just have to come up with another accessible remedy.
Fortunately for the Karnataka man though, he seems a batsman that has the wherewithal and the tactical nous to ride the storm that has threatened to throw his international sojourn into disarray.
Apart from the aforementioned reasons, Mayank Agarwal has flourished lately as a white-ball cricketer. And, those well-versed with the game would tell you that that usually has some sort of effect. But it might be more prudent to leave that discussion alone, for now.
Hence, as Mayank Agarwal gazes at the landscape around Melbourne, he might be wondering how fickle the sport of cricket can be and how he finds himself in a situation, wherein he has to prove his worth again.
Though countless batsmen have retained their spot in the side during worse lean patches, Mayank Agarwal doesn’t seem a player who would be satisfied being just another Test cricketer for India. In fact, he has often showcased the valour and the stomach required for a fight – reserves that he might have to dig deep into, considering India’s perilous predicament.
Rather fittingly though, Mayank Agarwal, exactly two years since his outstanding debut, would arrive at the MCG, in front of a similarly packed cauldron, chuckling to himself how his international career has come full circle.
Back then, he was a greenhorn waiting to make his mark. Now, he is a relatively experienced campaigner wanting to ensure that his mark stays, even after the dust settles on a potentially manic Test series.
And, as far as Boxing Day is concerned, nothing but a tall score would satiate his thirst for Christmas gifts, would it?Published 22 Dec 2020, 20:31 IST