I persisted, didn’t let go and that worked for me: Mayank Agarwal
At the MCG, Agarwal become the sixth India opener to reach 50 in his first innings of Test cricket. © BCCI

Mayank Agarwal is back home after a successful debut for India in Test cricket in Australia, and even though the euphoria of cherishing his life-long dream may linger, the 27-year-old is focused on going back to the drawing board to learn more from the experience of a maiden international tour.

Agarwal, flown in mid-series as replacement for injured Prithvi Shaw, scored 195 runs in three innings (76, 42, 77) and held his own at the highest level.

“Having experienced international cricket now, the two fifties have given me confidence,” Agarwal tells CricketCountry.com. “But, the biggest thing for me is to have that experience and take the learnings from this experience and go back and keep improving and keep on doing things that I have been doing; just keep at it.”

Agarwal’s truckloads of runs in the domestic circuit was, for most part of 2018, ignored by the selectors but in Australia, where the form of the Test openers – Murali Vijay and KL Rahul – plummeted and Shaw got injured, Agarwal received his long awaited due. For Agarwal, who used to travel more than 30 kms to the Karnataka State Cricket Association nets and a further 20 kms to his coach RX Muralidhar’s academy to hone his skills, the Test debut was a culmination of his persistence and hard work.

“Some things are not in my hands, but I am glad that I could go out there and represent my country and contribute to team’s success, which has created history,” he says. “One thing that I feel worked well for me is my persistence and my hard work. I kept at it working hard on my game and I persisted. I kept looking to get better. Initially, the results didn’t come, but I didn’t let go. I just said I will keep working hard and I will keep getting better and when the big scores started coming, a lot of belief started coming in, and things started to change.

Mayank Agarwal was regularly tested by the short ball.
Agarwal was regularly tested by the short ball during the SCG Test. © AFP

“And working with RX sir over five years now has really helped. Initially, we worked on my technique, started working on how to have game plans, strategy and lot of other things,” says Agarwal, who finished the 2017-18 domestic season with a record-breaking 2,141 runs to push his case for India selection, which saw him top the Ranji Trophy run chart with 1160 at 105.45, including three hundreds – a best of 304 not out – and two fifties.

Things have changed for the better for the opener, but he admits that despite feeling ready for international cricket, he was overwhelmed by the MCG in his debut innings on Boxing Day.

“When I went in to bat, I was nervous initially,” recollects Agarwal. “I said ‘wow, I am in the middle of something big’. But as I played a couple of overs, nerves settled and it got better. I just got into the zone and started playing my shots and started playing according the plan that I had for myself”.

Agarwal, who was in the company of another novice at the Test level, Hanuma Vihari, played out nearly 19 overs – the most for an Indian opening pair since 2011. While Vihari managed 8 off 66, Agarwal went on to score 76 off 161 balls.

One of the most striking features in his batting was the way he played Australian offspinner Nathan Lyon – bold enough to use his feet and take him on. For anyone who has watched Agarwal in domestic cricket would know that he likes taking on the spinners.

Mayank Agarwal hit Nathan Lyon for two sixes before falling in pursuit of a third.
Agarwal’s approach towards Nathan Lyon was key to India blunting the offspinner. © AFP

“I had a plan to him, obviously I had to respect the ball and I was playing on the merit of the ball , but I had a plan and glad that worked out for me,” reveals Agarwal, who speaks of the assurance he was given from coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli while he was handed over his Test cap.

“It was a very proud moment for me to receive the Test cap. Ravi sir said you have worked hard, scored a lot of runs and you have come up the hard way. And just go out go out there and perform to your best and do what you have been doing … it was nice to get that kind of assurance from him. While giving the cap, Virat said ‘it is a big occasion and the bigger the occasion, the bigger the chance to make an impact’”.

It will be another six months before India will play Tests – against West Indies – and with a successful outing in his debut series, Agarwal is a certainty to walk out to bat alongside Shaw in the Caribbean.

Before that is the IPL, the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup and a host of limited-over fixtures. While Agarwal has had to work hard to become a long-format player, he is a natural in limited-overs cricket and it could only be a matter of time before he breaks into India’s ODI and T20I squads. But he isn’t getting carried away.

“As I said earlier, I want to comeback and work hard, and I will do what I have to do and I am not thinking too far ahead. We have a lot of games to play and just want to focus on the games that I will play and hope to do well,” says Agarwal.