Ajit Agarkar played one of the most memorable innings of his career vs England, exactly 14 years ago    Getty Images
Ajit Agarkar played one of the most memorable innings of his career vs England, exactly 14 years ago Getty Images

After a remarkable win in the NatWest Series in 2002, India were scheduled to play a four-Test series against England. The first match was at the Mecca of cricket Lord’s. England posted a mammoth total on board in the first innings, eventually taking a big lead. Chasing 568 runs to win, India lost the match by 170 runs. The match looked like a one-sided contest, with Indian batsmen falling prey to swing and pace. However, it was Ajit Agarkar who stood rock solid from one end to ensure the hosts had to wait for their victory. On July 29, 2002, he displayed superior batsmanship, and achieved something even the great Sachin Tendulkar couldn’t in his 24-year-old illustrious career. ALSO READ: Clinical India secure comprehensive win over England at Leeds in 2002

Rewind to Day 5, first Test, Lord’s: India 232 for 6

No total in excess of 500 had ever been chased in Tests. India were cruising at 110 for 1 when suddenly a mini-collapse reduced them to 170 for 6 at the fag end of Day 4. In came Agarkar with VVS Laxman at the end other, and concluded the day with no further damage.

On the final day, India had a herculean task to bat out the entire day, with only 4 wickets left (as a win certainly looked out of equation). Agarkar, who was not expected to score big in the wildest of dreams, stitched an important partnership of 126 runs with Laxman, a more established batsman, to initiate a late fight back.

While Laxman played a patient innings, Agarkar played imperious shots, keeping the scoreboard ticking. England captain Nasser Hussain had close-in fielders around Agarkar to disturb his rhythm, but he defeated all odds and continued his fluent strokeplay.

What method did Agarkar employ in his gutsy innings?

Agarkar was armed with a high backlift, and had a reputation of being edgy at the start of his innings. The huge gap between his bat and pads enabled bowlers to dismantle his defence. However, that day, he came walked in with an attacking mood, and the England bowlers could not trouble even with ferocious swing.

Agarkar played as if he was there to prove a point. England had three to four slip fielders and a man at the gully region when the pacers were bowling to him. On the other hand, they had a leg-slip, two slip fielders and a forward short-leg breathing down his neck. Agarkar found the best way possible to play, and he started counterattacking.

He displayed all the shots at his disposal. He cut past the point region; he flicked; he played lovely straight drives; he swept effectively to add valuable runs for the team in dire states.

The best part of his innings was that he played late and pounced on the bad ones with ease. He lost Laxman, with India at 296 for 7. India still had a mountain to climb. The match was pretty much done and dusted, and England were just a few wickets away from stamping their authority at Lord’s. Agarkar had gone past his fifty and did not get bogged down by the fall of wickets from the other end. ALSO READ: Ishant Sharma must shoulder responsibility of getting more wickets: Ajit Agarkar

What this innings meant for the entire team?

He took maximum responsibility from the other end, and in the process, he became the seventh Indian to score a hundred at Lord’s. Even it took 16 years for the technically immaculate Rahul Dravid to get his name on the honour’s board.

His nonchalant innings was not only about developing his own stature as a batsman, but about counterstriking when the fate of the match was pretty much decided.

India, then, lost the match but brilliantly came back to level the series 1-1. It was a remarkable tour for India, where their youngsters stood for them and played some gruelling knocks in pressure situations.

Agarkar’s spectacular knock generated a competitive spirit inside the dressing room. It made a strong statement, as he was controversially picked up over Harbhajan Singh in the match; and he answered all his critics, answered in style.

(Aditya Sahay is a journalist with CricketCountry who is completely into sports and loves writing about cricket in general. He can be followed on Twitter at adisahay7)