Ajit Agarkar took the Zimbabwean bowlers to the cleaners in the winter of 2000 to score the fastest half-century by an Indian © Getty Images
On December 14, 2000, Ajit Agarkar rewrote the record books in a matter of just half an hour. His 50 off 21 deliveries is still the fastest by an Indian in One-Day International – a feat earlier held by Kapil Dev for 17 years. Karthik Parimal revisits the heroic innings.
It is unfortunate the way Ajit Agarkar’s performance graph panned out during the later stages of his career. For someone who was once hailed as the best thing to happen to Indian cricket in a long time, Agarkar is now seldom remembered for his useful contributions with both the bat and the ball. As Nishad Pai Vaidya wrote, Agarkar continues to suffer from the tag of enigma, despite having superior One-Day International (ODI) numbers than Zaheer Khan. His five ducks in a row during the series against Australia often pops up in the mind, and, it’s easily forgotten that he still holds the record for the fastest half-century by an Indian in ODIs.
On December 14, 2000, Agarkar blazed his way to a 50 in just 21 deliveries against the helpless Zimbabweans at Rajkot, and in the process surpassed Kapil Dev’s long-standing record after a good 17 years. The sight of Agarkar walking to the middle with a willow in his hand was always exciting, but of course, those were the days when whites were still a part of ODI cricket and Virender Sehwag came in to bat at No.6. During the second half of Agarkar’s career, such performances were sadly few and far between.
During the winter of 2000, a formidable Zimbabwean unit visited India, but they were duly humbled prior to this fifth ODI at Rajkot. Already 3-1 up in the series, Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly decided to give himself a break, and Reetinder Singh Sodhi was named as the replacement. Asked to bat first, India soon found itself in a spot of bother with the score reading 114 for five. Pride was all that the Zimbabweans were playing for, and at one point it appeared as though they’d get just that. However, Hemang Badani’s resistance notwithstanding, two unlikely heroes put their hand up for India.
In the 44th over, when the scoreboard precariously read 216 for six, Agarkar and Sodhi occupied the crease. At this juncture, 250 appeared realistic, since there was not much batting to follow after the pair. Agarkar looked positive and fearless right from the outset. His first attacking shot was a pull off left-arm medium pacer Bryan Strang, and the ball sailed over the ropes before thudding into an advertising fence. The cheer that followed Badani’s wicket instantly disappeared from the faces of the Zimbabwean players.
In the next over, a settled Sodhi launched into Mluleki Nkala and further damaged his bowling figures. The counterattack now meant that the Indians, for the first time in the match, were eyeing a score of over 260. This possibility was further strengthened when Agarkar took Zimbabwe’s premier bowler, Heath Streak, to the cleaners. A six over the long-on boundary and a shot that went straight over the umpire’s head to the fence were the highlights, and after the eventful 47th over that cost the visitors 18 runs, India’s score now stood pretty at 254 for six. A final total of 275 now looked extremely possible.
Having shown his prowess on the leg side, Agarkar now crashed one through the covers off Nkala. In the same over, Sodhi registered his maiden half-century. Ganguly’s absence was expected to be a boon to the Zimbabweans, but this resilience was against all expectations. Agarkar then sent the final two deliveries of the over to the off-side fence as well, and as India raced to 269 for six in 48 overs, his score was a brilliant 42 off just 18. 300 was now within reach, but it still meant that the duo had to play out of their skins.
Streak bowled the 49th over and conceded 11 runs, inclusive of a boundary that saw Agarkar move to 47 off just 20 deliveries. The fact that Nkala was assaulted in the previous two overs forced skipper Streak to toss the ball to Alistair Campbell. A slow, part-time bowler was always going to be a gamble. Sodhi managed to get a single in the first ball of the 50th over, and it now meant that Agarkar was one hit away from registering the fastest half-century by an Indian in ODIs.
As soon as the ball was pitched up, Agarkar, who was at this point brimming with confidence, played an inside-out shot over cover to put aside Kapil Dev’s record of 17 years. The last two deliveries of the innings sailed over the fence as well, and 21 runs in the final over meant that India finished at a gigantic 301 for six.
The partnership between Agarkar and Sodhi was worth 85, and 65 of those runs came in the last four overs alone. India eventually won the game by a margin of 39 runs and the series 4-1.
Although Agarkar scored a hundred at Lords and an unforgettable 95 against the West Indies thereafter, such heroics with the bat became quite sporadic.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)