Agarwal made the most of a belated call-up with a wonderfully compiled 76, in front of a record 73,516 appreciate fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
Agarwal made the most of a belated call-up with a wonderfully compiled 76, in front of a record 73,516 appreciate fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

MELBOURNE: No. 295. That’s the first thought that ran through Mayank Agarwal’s mind when he received his Test cap from Virat Kohli on Boxing Day Wednesday.

It’s a cap he had waited for for so long that when the moment arrived, the Karnataka opener was overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions. In keeping those emotions under check and bringing up the highest score by an Indian debutant in Australia, the 27-year-old showed how much he had progressed since the days of pretty 40s and bruising 50s. (ALSO READ: India ahead or match in balance?)

There was little, apart from the cap-ceremony at the team huddle before play, to suggest that this was a man playing his first Test. The composure that has become such an integral feature of his cricket was all too obvious, and while his mind must have been racing and the adrenaline surging through his body, he displayed neither nervousness nor impetuosity. (ALSO READ: Would have liked to stay on till end of the day: Mayank Agarwal)

Taking to Test cricket like to the manor born, Agarwal made the most of a belated call-up with a wonderfully compiled 76, in front of a record 73,516 appreciate fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the biggest crowd on Boxing Day for a Test involving India. It won’t be long now before his bare bat is adorned by the sticker of a bat manufacturer; apart from a stout heart and a solid technique, he also presented a broad willow to negate the best efforts of Australia’s pace attack. (ALSO READ: Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara set agenda for India’s dominance at the MCG)

Hanuma Vihari and Agarwal became the first set of Indians to open a Test innings for the first time together in 82 years, the former – a two-Test rookie – taking first strike. Agarwal didn’t prance around like a nervous horse waiting for the starter’s orders. He looked completely at home despite the impressive occasion and the intimidating stage, quietly soaking it all in as Vihari played out an eventful maiden against Mitchell Starc. (ALSO READ: Australian commentator Kerry O’Keeffe ridicules Mayank Agarwal’s First-Class runs, says his 304*came against ‘some canteen people & waiters’)

Agarwal didn’t take long to get off the mark, with a pushed three through the covers off his fourth delivery, from Josh Hazlewood. Even then, he moved nicely towards the ball, his hands close to his body, his feet sure in their movement, his head perfectly still. Once the dreaded zero disappeared from against his name, Agarwal must have breathed an inward sigh of relief. For nearly four hours after that, he did at the Test level what he has been doing so brilliantly in the grades just below – keeping the good balls out, always keeping his eye on the red cherry, taking the well-directed short ones on his body, and quickly latching on to every scoring opportunity, no matter how distantly they were spaced. (ALSO READ: Lap of honour at the MCG for Ricky Ponting as part of ICC Hall of Fame induction)

Having been around at the senior level since 2011, it wasn’t until last year that Agarwal began to do justice to the immense talent coiled inside his lithe frame. With a reputation for being a dasher in his early days, he embarked on a journey of self-discovery from his IPL days with Royal Challengers Bangalore after being presented with a copy of James Murphy’s The Power of the Subconscious by Ramesh Mane, the affable one-time masseur of the national team and a friend and mentor to many of his young charges.

That, and vipasana, the ancient technique of meditation which he embarked on following encouragement from businessman father Anurag, were to prove the turning points of a career until then less fulfilled. “The book got me thinking about my approach towards life, and vipasana helped me understand life better,” he said during his purple patch that began in November last year. “Vipasana taught me that life is a journey and all of us take different paths. I didn’t change overnight, the process has been gradual.”

During this process, Agarwal understood the value of patience, of discipline, of peace of mind, of being at peace with oneself, of calming the mind. All these attributes, together with an enhanced work ethic that allowed his fitter body to bat for longer periods of time, allowed him to erect the impressive edifices on the back of which he finally shattered the sturdy doors of national selection.

His ally during testing times when the mountain of runs didn’t seem to sway the national selectors has been his great mate KL Rahul. The comrades-in-arms would have loved to have opened the batting together for India at the MCG, but fairytales don’t exactly unfold in real life. Agarwal’s debut was facilitated by Rahul’s poor form and subsequent ouster, but as the pats on the back following the cap-giving event flowed, the warmest, longest and most meaningful hug came from Rahul, Agarwal’s Karnataka mate, among other things.

Enveloped in a sea of positivity from the outer and floating in an ocean of self-belief and confidence of his own making, Agarwal made for a pretty picture at the ‘G’. Starc, Hazlewood and, most tellingly, Pat Cummins, put him through a searching examination on a track that was initially two-paced when damp, then quickened up as the sun beat down on it. The initial uneven bounce meant the ball brooked careful watching; Agarwal did so like a hawk, ready to sway out of the way at the last instant if it followed him, and happy to put shoulder and body on the line while keeping bat and gloves out of harm’s way.

His treatment of Nathan Lyon, India’s nemesis this series, was exemplary. Getting down low to break his wrists and drive against miniscule turn, or using his feet to strike aerially, Agarwal was in total command as he eased to his fifty, and seemed bedded down for a tryst with three-figures.

It took a nasty lifter from the persevering Cummins for Agarwal to depart at the stroke of tea, caught down leg off the glove. Cheteshwar Pujara trotted across to offer congratulations and commiserations, the crowd rose as one to applaud him off the field. Agarwal had lived out a dream, if only one of many. Several more need to be translated to reality; on the evidence of this essay, there is no reason to believe they won’t.