CHENNAI: November 4, 2017.
It’s the start of Day 3 of Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy match against Maharashtra. Mayank Agarwal, who was unbeaten on 219 at the end of Day 2, did not let go off his intensity at the crease. When they eventually declared at 628/5, the opener was unbeaten on 304.
A few overs into Agarwal’s international debut on December 26, 2018, Kerry O’Keeffe, who was on air at that time, dissected Agarwal’s 304 thus. “It must have come against Jalandhar Railways Canteen Staff XI”.
All the former Australia player had to do was type in “Agarwal 304” in Google to find out the true significance of that innings.
One can even argue that without that 304, the opener wouldn’t be where he is right now. That in reality was the innings that helped him overcome fear of failure. He had said so himself in several interviews, including one that was given to this newspaper last March. “What changed after it (that match against Maharashtra) was that I decided to let go of my fear of failure,” he had said then.
It’s been 14 months since that 304, but Agarwal’s mind is still free. There are no inner demons hampering his thought process, unlike a few other India openers. Most of all, he is able to think and execute his plans clearly, without any fear of repercussions. That’s ultimately what helped him handle Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc on the first morning of his debut in front of 60,000. Even when he was taken aback by the sheer size of Melbourne Cricket Ground, he kept reminding himself of these four words: “I. Have. A. Plan”.
“I was nervous on the first morning,” he now tells this paper after returning from Australia. “(Virat) Kohli had told me during while practising that I was going to be in the XI. Even then, when I was walking out to bat, I felt like, ‘Wow. I’m in the middle of something big’. But I just kept telling myself that ‘I have a plan and I need to stick to it.’”
He doesn’t want to reveal the thought process that went into tackling the off-spinner, but it’s no surprise that he took him on straightaway. Three of his first four scoring shots were boundaries, including one where he danced down the strip. This immediately put Lyon under pressure, who is probably not used to seeing even elite batsmen treat him in this fashion on the back-foot. Line and length went for a toss and the puzzle had been cracked just like that.
Curiously enough, he credits a coffee session with his close friend KL Rahul for giving him the gumption to play freely. “When I came into the team, each and every player was supportive. I had gone for a coffee with Rahul a day before the Melbourne Test. He sat me down and explained to me things like, ‘This is what you look at as a player’ and, ‘This is what we as team try to do’. All those words really helped me. I was fully prepared by the time I faced my first ball.”
It’s been 16 days since the 27-year-old faced that delivery, but it hasn’t yet sunken in for Agarwal. “(Laughs)... Some of it is yet to sink in, but I’m very grateful that I have made my Test bow.”But the right-hander has already begun to look ahead. “There is a lot more cricket to prepare for. I am just not going to sit back and say, ‘I have played Test cricket’. I have a Ranji Trophy game soon to prepare for. Then there is an A series coming up. So, yeah, lots and lots of cricket to look forward to.”
The question is, can he continue to blossom?