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Mayank Agarwal has scored over a thousand runs this month © IANS

Mayank Agarwal was batting on 104 overnight. While he was busy milking the Railways bowlers, his coach RX Muralidhar had been expecting his ward‘s name to feature in one of the senior India sides the selectors announced the same afternoon. That did not happen. Mayank stretched his score to 134 and Karnataka set Railways a target of 377. Then K Gowtham bagged 7 for 72 and Karnataka pocketed another win to soar to 32 points to top Group A.

Agarwal, 26, has now scored 1,033 runs from his last 4 matches and 7 innings. It is interesting to note that he has played 10 innings in Ranji Trophy 2017-18; the first 3 innings had fetched him 31 and that included a pair. In fact, the pair came immediately before he embarked upon his amazing run…

The mental side

“Honestly, I felt it was over for him this season [after the pair against Hyderabad]. I was sure they (Karnataka) would drop him. We shared a laugh and I told him to let go and have fun. He is too organised and was batting well but the runs weren’t coming. Fortunately, he has great friends in the side. They kept backing him. The captain believed in him and they gave him another chance. He did not come to practice for two days before the Pune game and that is very uncharacteristic of Mayank. He let go the pressure of the what-if-I-don’t and then came the triple ton that changed the course,” recalls Muralidhar.

Mayank has scored over a thousand runs this month. If he sets his sight of VVS Laxman’s Ranji Trophy record of 1,415 runs in a season, there will be no stopping Karnataka from laying their hands on the trophy.

But why take unnecessary pressure? “The approach of letting go has worked for Mayank. That is the conscious effort we are making. He needs to be unaffected and I am sure he will. We have worked on the mental side. If big runs are coming, then [he should] treat it as one good day in the office and not let any complacency of ‘I am the best’ creeping in. Similarly, there are bound to be days where you come out and make similar good effort but things do not fall in place, it is not the end of the world. The letting go of performance pressure and just enjoying it out in the middle continues to be important.”

National call-up

There is steep competition for the top-order in the national side. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Agarwal’s state-mate KL Rahul are circling those coveted two chairs reserved for the high-fliers. There’s a waiting list, too. Remember, Cheteshwar Pujara has never shied from batting at the top either. However, Agarwal has leapfrogged past many in the race for the chair with this surreal show.

Unfortunately, the competition for the slots at the highest level is optimum. When the wise men headed by MSK Prasad sat down to pick teams for the third Test and the ODI series, Muralidhar hoped they would find a spot for his ward: “I would be lying if I say I wasn’t expecting his name. But what can you do about the uncontrollable? This is a journey. He is on a positive path and it is not the end of the road and a long race. The selectors have kept him in the radar. He has played for the A sides and they have been patient with him. People want him to do well. We have seen that performances at domestic levels have been rewarded with national calls in recent times and if he continues to be his consistent, his time shall come.”

Karnataka will play their quarter-final on December 7 against Mumbai. There will be no greater litmus test for Mayank.