Domain Tests v India
Agarwal rise owed to India legends
India's latest Test debutant has been moulded by two of India's greatest batsmen
Andrew Ramsey at the MCG
26 December 2018, 06:55 PM AEST
Mayank Agarwal might only have been aged 12 when an India opener last stole headlines on Australian cricket's most revered day, but at that time he was already being whispered about as a player of potential in the mould of Virender Sehwag.
As a student at Bengaluru's prestigious Bishop Cotton Boys' School – alma mater of the former England captain, Colin Cowdrey – Agarwal's precocious talent and powerful ball-striking set him apart from traditional practitioners at the top of the order.
A preconception that Sehwag changed indelibly with his 2003 Boxing Day cameo.
India had previously seen explosive openers the likes of Kris Srikkanth, but it was Sehwag's extraordinary day one assault against Steve Waugh's shell-shocked bowling attack that re-set the bar for those to follow.
The right-hander blasted 195 on the opening day of that Test, and Waugh recently told cricket.com.au that, at one stage, it seemed Sehwag "was going to get about 490".
Until he lazily slapped a full-toss from occasional spinner Simon Katich down the throat of deep mid-wicket.
On a vastly different MCG pitch 15 years later, India's top-order barely replicated Sehwag's individual effort from that day and finished 2-215, of which Argawal contributed the top score to date (76) in his debut Test.
At a famous ground that he had not set eyes upon until India's first training session last week, having been belatedly added to their Test squad days earlier as a replacement for another fast-scoring opener, Prithvi Shaw, who suffered an ankle injury.
But the long-held comparisons between past-master Sehwag and his rookie apprentice occasionally flashed into view, most notably when Agarwal flat-batted spinner Nathan Lyon through the covers or lifted him effortlessly for six over mid-on.
Agarwal had come to the attention of India's talent watchers when he was still an adolescent at school, and not only for the surety of his strokeplay.
By his own admission, Agarwal was a "fat kid" who was habitually overweight and who, in order to maximise his undoubted talent, went on a strict eggs-only diet and took up distance running at age 19.
By that time, he was also known to cricket fans in Australia by dint of the 160 he blasted from 142 balls – a knock littered with 18 boundaries and five sixes – for India under-19s at Hobart's Blundstone Arena in 2009.
An innings blessed by good fortune, after he knocked the first ball he faced on to his stumps but the bails remained stubbornly in place.
That was against a young Australia attack that included Sean Abbott, Alistair McDermott and Adam Zampa, and a team that featured Mitchell Marsh who was also on the opposing side for the 27-year-old's first senior international appearance today.
"Just playing at this ground and being here was very, very special," Agarwal told Fox Cricket at the end of his first day as a Test cricketer.
"We've heard a lot and the MCG has a big history behind it, so it was very special to come out here and play here today."
Despite having played almost 50 first-class games prior to receiving his Test cap, Agarwal admitted to being swamped by emotions that he found difficult to push aside as he walked out to the middle of the vast stadium, with his new opening partner Hanuma Vihari.
His confidence was buoyed, however, by knowledge he had prospered against a top-flight Australia A attack during their tour to India earlier this year.
That was when Agarwal scored 47 and 80 opening on his home ground at Bengaluru against bowlers the quality of Chris Tremain, Michael Neser, Brendon Doggett, Jon Holland and Travis Head, another familiar figure awaiting him in the centre of the MCG today.
So the quality and maturity of Agarwal's 161-ball stay that included eight boundaries and his crisp six off Lyon was hardly a surprise to the Australia camp, even if many in the daunting crowd of 73,516 knew little of the right-hander's antecedents.
Nor did it come as an unexpected return to his batting coach, Irfan Sait, who told India media outlets in the days prior to Agarwal's debut that he anticipated his young charge would produce "an aggressive, Sehwag-like innings" when given his chance.
"I wouldn't like to make any comparisons, but Sehwag (often) appeared laid back and casual in his approach," Sait said.
"Mayank never looked casual – he is intense and a very serious player.
"His approach is not of deflecting and pushing at balls, he is positive.
"We will not see him bogged down."
Agarwal also plays down the comparisons with Sehwag, whose Test career yielded 8,586 runs at 49.34 from 104 matches including two triple-centuries and four double-tons to go with his Boxing Day 195.
But he has benefitted from Sehwag's input, having crossed paths with the former great in 2013 and then maintained contact through their mutual involvement with the Kings XI Punjab IPL franchise.
"I really admired the way Viru (Sehwag) played the game," Argawal told reporters last year.
"We've spoken a lot of times, mostly during the IPL, about how he went about his game, and his mindset while playing".
The other former India champion who has played a significant part in Agarwal's rise, and particularly his evolution from a 'white-ball specialist' into a solid, reliable red-ball opener is Rahul Dravid.
A player renowned as the antithesis of Sehwag's free-wheeling flair, Dravid was instrumental in keeping Agarwal's mind focused on substantial goals even when the promising opener was dropped from Karnataka's first-class team in 2014 due to indifferent returns.
As India A coach, Dravid drove the youngster to tighten his game while ensuring he did not compromise Agarwal's attacking nature.
In the wake of today's innings, Agarwal noted that while he was pleased to take the record for highest score by an India player on debut in Australia, he was disappointed he did not push on to reach a maiden century, and more.
Should he successfully marry the impregnability of 'The Wall' (Dravid) with the irresistibility of 'Viru', then India might well have found the opener for whom they have so earnestly craved since Sehwag retired in 2013.
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: India won by 31 runs
Dec 14-18: Australia won by 146 runs
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Archie Schiller
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar