Varun Shetty in Indore


In a recent chat with ESPNcricinfo, Mayank Agarwal said that, at some point a couple of years ago, he had grown tired of getting 20s and 30s. To get better at converting starts, he worked with his coach to break innings down into phases – the start, for instance, or the period once he’s settled – and developed patterns for each of them. The transformation into a game suited for huge runs stemmed from that simplistic-sounding solution. But perhaps not even he could have imagined he could, once again, come close to batting as dominantly in Tests as he had during the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy season, in which he famously made 1000 runs in a month.

After just his fifth Test innings at home, Agarwal has three hundreds, two of them double-hundreds, and 583 runs at 116.60. After three fifties overseas without going past the 70s, he’s made centuries each time he’s reached 50 in this home season. The hardwired ability to convert starts has resurfaced.

“I think it goes down for me at least, to understanding that there have been times where I’ve not got runs,” Agarwal said at his press conference at the end of the second day’s play in Indore. “So I must respect the game, that I am batting well. When I am doing that I need to make sure that I make it big and put the team in the driver’s seat or put it in such a position that we cannot lose from there.

“So I think that becomes key. Knowing that you are batting well, and you’ve got your hundred, you’ve got to make sure – it’s on you to take the team ahead.”

Across formats, Agarwal has made 847 runs in nine innings since the start of October, at an average of 121.00, and through that period he’s looked like he’s done exactly as he wants in the middle. His 243 in Indore was scored with a control percentage of 96 – he was in control of 317 balls out of the 330 he faced. At the very least, that indicates an excellent grasp of shot selection.

But Agarwal had a moment on the second day that could have left him bitter. In his short career in Tests, he has twice been trapped in an awkward, much-too-upright position while trying to sweep offspinners. On both occasions, he’s been given out lbw. On both occasions, tracking suggested that the ball would have spun past leg stump.

On Friday, he reviewed and had the decision overturned. But not before a visible expression of shock, brought on by the memory of the previous dismissal, in Antigua, where he had failed to review.

“Initially when I got hit on the pad, I thought I wasn’t out,” he said. “But then when I was given out, I had a quick flashback because I got out the same way to Roston Chase in West Indies. So I said I can’t make that mistake again. I was glad that it was missing. At some point I thought, maybe it might just be umpire’s call and I was doomed.”

Doomed seems an apt depiction of what Agarwal thought had happened. When the decision did go in his favour, he knelt down, took a moment to compose himself, got back up, and looked gratefully at the skies before having a long chat with partner Ajinkya Rahane. He was on 82 at the time. In total, he played only five sweeps of any kind in his innings, including the slog-sweep that eventually dismissed him. Even that, he later said, had been an error.

Five sweeps in a 330-ball innings in the subcontinent paints a picture of restraint, which is one of the defining factors of Agarwal’s transformation, and possibly one of the reasons he’s been able to take the run-scoring habit from domestic cricket to Test cricket with relative ease.

It also tells us Agarwal is a damn good player of spin. Offspinners feature often in the list of bowlers who have dismissed him so far, but until he’s looking to create a boundary opportunity against them – Nathan Lyon at the MCG, Chase, and Mehidy Hasan Miraz today – he is usually dominating them. It’s almost a principle of Agarwal’s batting.

After surviving the lbw against Mehidy, he reverted to a more solid approach, with the full face offered, reliant on quick wrists to get him his runs. The next time he looked to manufacture a boundary opportunity off Mehidy, he was in full control, guiding a length ball past slip. Against the left-arm spin of Taijul Islam, he produced one of the shots of the day, getting down to the pitch of the ball and lifting it over extra-cover. It was part of a demonstration of flawless batting every time he stepped down the wicket – 44 runs off nine balls, including the six that brought up his double century. Around those nine balls, it was all finesse.

In a nutshell, that has been Agarwal’s career as a Test player so far. Against pace, his technique can sometimes get him in a tangle when he looks to pull. So you barely see the shot; even against Bangladesh’s seamers. And yet, three of his best shots of the day were pulls, all against Ebadot Hussain, and all in front of square.

Agarwal’s batting at the moment is a dilution of all that he likes to do with restraint that he built through, in his words, creating monotony by doing laps of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. It has brought him a mountain of runs at domestic level, and the volume certainly hasn’t changed so far after he’s made the step up.

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