Eden Park, February 8, 2020. India are chasing New Zealand's 274 and seamer Hamish Bennett looks primed to draw first blood. New Zealand certainly have done their homework scrutinizing the chinks in Mayank Agarwal's armor. A few deliveries methodically pitched around the fourth-stump-channel probe Agarwal's defensive technique. The youngster's fluent drive pierces the heavily guarded off-side ring, but the lack of footwork gives New Zealand a sniff of an opening. Bennett hurls another lifter in the 'corridor of uncertainty' and the plan bears fruit. Agarwal, getting himself into an awkward side-on position, prods forward with minimal conviction and jabs reluctantly to give the lone slip some catching practice.
Two days later in the dead rubber at Bay Oval , debutant Kyle Jamieson produces an absolute peach to send Agarwal's off stump cartwheeling. No doubt the outswinger was brilliantly executed and would've probably knocked over anyone, but Agarwal's technical quandary glorified the dismissal's manner and suggested he might have played down the wrong line. The prolific run-scorer had always thrived on staying leg side of the ball and letting his hand-eye co-ordination take control. But that also meant that occasionally, Agarwal's right shoulder opened up more than what's ideal and he got squared up frequently even against gentle swing bowling. Likewise, at the moment, his mind was being preoccupied with thoughts of rectifying the backlift and body arrangement and consequently, his overall game was suffering the repercussions.
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Revamping the hard way
Life had come full circle for Agarwal. After having toiled relentlessly over the years to eradicate technical loopholes, and eventually cementing his place as India's frontline opener by churning out consistent performances, the discrepancies in his batting style were returning to haunt the flamboyant right-hander. That too, at the international level where each delivery is closely monitored, and the video analysts are capable of locating the minuscule of errors.
The road to redemption wasn't the easiest, and another early departure in Hamilton's warm-up match only compounded Agarwal's problems. While his teammates got the hang of things on Seddon Park's green top, Agarwal hit the nets twice under the watchful guidance of batting coach Vikram Rathour. The intense session saw him predominantly counter length deliveries, focused on getting the biomechanics spot on. Forthwith, throw-down specialist Raghavendra was seen rolling underarms to Agarwal, a unique drill aimed at ensuring he transfers his weight properly while driving.
The efforts reaped dividends as Agarwal found his bearings with a morale-boosting 81 in the second innings- a knock which oozed his customary flair. His footwork and approach exuded assurance, which was clearly missing since he'd landed in New Zealand. The front shoulder led the charge post the trigger movement and the bat swing followed nicely- evident from the handsy punches and on-drives dominating his array of strokes. Thankfully, for Agarwal, everything had magically glided back into sync and the nagging concerns regarding his form were put to rest. The team management could finally heave a sigh of relief; their designated opener had eliminated glitches and struck form in the nick of time.
“It’s been a little different playing here but I want to leave all that behind. Whatever has happened has happened. Yes, I got an 81 in the second innings of this practice game and I want to take this confidence forward into the Test match. ” Agarwal reflected after the match concluded.
“Vikram sir and me, we have sat down and spoken about the areas where we need to improve. Yes, we have worked on it. After I got out in the first innings, I went back behind to the nets, did a lot of drills. I am happy whatever I have worked on is coming good now.”
When questioned about the finer details, Agarwal responded, “Just being a little too closed. That’s just one part of it. But it is what it is and I don’t want to discuss too much about it. Yes, we worked on and we’ve moved forward and I would leave all that behind. I got a couple of on-drives in this innings and as a batsman, you know that you have to be doing a lot of things correct to hit an on-drive. When I got a couple of those, it gave me the assurance that was required.”
Now that the Agarwal conundrum seems sorted, the visitors can positively march into the grueling red-ball format knowing they can tick all the right boxes.Published 17 Feb 2020, 13:15 IST