World Cup 2019: Why Mayank Agarwal's inclusion might be a blessing in disguise
The number of injuries the Indian cricket team has suffered is perhaps the most of any team in this World Cup. Two players from the initial squad, Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar, have been ruled out of the tournament after playing a handful of games, while one of the strike bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, suffered a niggle after an inappropriate landing while bowling in a group match.
While a long Indian Premier League at the end of a rather long international season might have some role to play in these injuries, India have been fortunate enough to find worthy replacements.
The exciting Mayank Agarwal has now been called in to replace Vijay Shankar, who got hit by a Jasprit-Bumrah yorker in the nets, suffered a fracture and is now flying home in a disappointing end to his Cup journey. This is not the first time the solid opening batsman is flying in as cover for an injured batsman. Agarwal was called in to replace the injured Prithvi Shaw just before the Boxing Day Test during the tour of Australia last season.
Agarwal scored 76 and 42 in his first two innings - a welcome performance for a team whose openers had struggled right through the year. His 42 in the second innings was all the more impressive as none of India's other top-six managed to cross more than 13 runs. While braving the might of Australia's world-class pace attack, Mayank also counter-attacked Nathan Lyon, hitting him for back-to-back sixes.
While India won the match thanks to Agarwal's solid showing among other good performances, a fluent 77 in India's only innings during the drawn Test at Sydney meant that he averaged 65 in the series and India won a Test series in Australia for the very first time in history. Captain Virat Kohli, who had been Agarwal's teammate at RCB for several seasons, spoke glowingly about the impact of Agarwal's batting in the team's victory.
￼The fact that the Boxing Day Test was only Agarwal's international debut was all the more pleasing. In fact, he would have made his limited overs debut during India's subsequent tour (of New Zealand), had he not suffered a finger injury towards the end of the Australia series. He was being considered as replacement for KL Rahul, but once BCCI knew he won't be able to recover in time, Shubhman Gill was added to the squad.
Agarwal's international debut was long due, as he was one of the leading run scorers in the Indian domestic circuit across all formats for two back-to-back seasons. His body language appears confident while his technique appears compact - a rarity for all Indian openers tried during the last year and a half.
In List A cricket, Agarwal has scored 3605 runs at an average of 48.71 including 12 centuries and has a great record in the same category of matches played in the UK.
He was being talked about a lot during India's tour of England last season, as Agarwal was playing for India A there around the same time.
Even during the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy, Agarwal scored an unbeaten 85 off 57 balls for Karnataka during a tense chase against Maharashtra, to seal the title and win the man-of-the-match award. Though he did not have a great IPL, a quickfire 55 for Kings XI Punjab against Sunrisers Hyderabad helped his team win a match in similar circumstances.
Going into the last week of the group stage, India looks good for a semifinal berth. The team has the potential to go all the way, and if they do, they will have four big matches coming their way. While they rub shoulders with the best teams in the following fortnight, cricket is going to be a mind game for sure.
While the most deserving team will take the trophy, handling of nerves will be crucial. Short cameos and spells can prove to be turning points in matches. The team that has mentally tough players is quite likely to emerge victorious at this juncture and Agarwal has proven his capability in that department as well. Agarwal, the latest addition to India's squad, has indeed all the ingredients to do well at cricket's biggest stage.
Also read – World cup winners list