Agarwal is no stranger to a higher quality of bowling, having played for India A outfits in South Africa, England and New Zealand, and knows that while it might appear a little unfair to be thrown in at the deep end, he can’t score runs sitting in the changing-room.
Agarwal is no stranger to a higher quality of bowling, having played for India A outfits in South Africa, England and New Zealand, and knows that while it might appear a little unfair to be thrown in at the deep end, he can’t score runs sitting in the changing-room.

In August this year, when Prithvi Shaw was fast-tracked to the Indian Test side midway through the five-match series in England, Mayank Agarwal had every reason to feel hard done by. He had done everything that the Mumbai teenager had done, and more. Yet, when the selectors plumped for a replacement for the out-of-sorts Murali Vijay for the final two Tests, it was Shaw that they turned to, disregarding the mountain of attractive runs – numbering beyond 3,000 — Agarwal had erected in front of their eyes.

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Agarwal finally got his due when he was named in the squad for the home Tests against Windies, but with KL Rahul and Shaw the first-choice openers, he had no option but to soak in the dressing-room atmosphere, learn from the preparatory routines of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, and bide his time.

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Time seemed to have passed him by again when the wise men returned to the experience of Vijay for the four-Test series in Australia, as the third prong of an opening wheel that also contained Rahul and Shaw. However, this time, the cricketing Gods smiled benevolently on the 27-year-old opener. Shaw sustained an ankle injury that subsequently ruled him out of the series, necessitating Agarwal to be flown out to Melbourne as his replacement.

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Now, Agarwal is within a reasonable punt of making his debut when India and Australia square off at the magnificent MCG in the third Test, starting on Wednesday (December 26). Both Rahul and Vijay have been in the wars in the four innings thus far, aggregating 48 and 49 runs respectively; only in the second innings in Adelaide, when Rahul chanced his arm to brazen his way to 44, have they offered a substantial opening salvo. The time for change is now.

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Which one of Rahul or Vijay will make way for Agarwal is interesting. At 26, Rahul is the much younger one, but he is carrying the mental baggage of a string of failures, looking inhibited and careworn. Vijay has displayed greater composure at the crease, not as morose as his opening partner and slowly showing signs, as in the second innings in Perth, that he may not be far away from rediscovering handy touch. Vijay, or Rahul? Rahul, or Vijay? A real dilemma that Kohli and Ravi Shastri will grapple with over the next 36 hours.

Agarwal, though, must play. There is no guarantee that he will solve the opening woes if he does play, it goes without saying. But he has staked his claim for the opening slot in the Test team with thunderous rhapsody. To continue to overlook his credentials, particularly at a time when the incumbent openers look anything but convincing, doesn’t make too much sense.

Agarwal’s transformation from an impetuous, attack-minded batsman to a more mature individual, with a better understanding of his game, greater pickiness when it comes to shot-selection, and the wisdom that has driven him to make the best of a good thing, has been wondrous. This metamorphosis is not accidental. Alongside his coach RX Muralidhar back in Bangalore, Agarwal has worked incessantly on his mind and his game. And, once he smashed the doors with more than 1,000 Ranji Trophy runs in November last year alone to force his way into the India A side, he has had the excellent fortune of feeding off the treasure trove that Rahul Dravid’s mind is.

There is nothing to suggest that Agarwal isn’t ready for Test cricket. He is at that stage in his life where, having experienced a fair share of success and disappointment, he is able to appreciate the former and understand the latter a lot better. He is a more organised defensive player and therefore a more rounded batsman than he was a few years back, when he was happy to thrash a rapid 60 or 70. He has drawn inspiration from Rahul’s successes, and the impact Rahul made on the national side across formats when he broke in exactly four years back.

Agarwal and Rahul opened the batting for India at the 2010 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, and both seemed destined for greater things. The chemistry between them was all too obvious and they thrived while batting alongside one another. Rahul clearly was the classier, but what Agarwal lacked in natural grace, he made up with other attributes. However, Rahul got on the car and sped away, and since then, his great mate has been chasing his shadow. Through one of those quirks of fate, Agarwal has drawn abreast of his buddy, and is in prime position to ease past him.

Both on Sunday and on Monday at the MCG, Agarwal was in the first set of batsmen to pad up. Not too much should be read into practice sessions – especially at a time when well-concealed injuries aren’t revealed until nearly a month later – but given the attention Shastri paid him, it is safe to say that the think-tank is looking at him more than just cursorily. Agarwal is no stranger to a higher quality of bowling, having played for India A outfits in South Africa, England and New Zealand, and knows that while it might appear a little unfair to be thrown in at the deep end, he can’t score runs sitting in the changing-room.

Should Agarwal receive his maiden Test cap on Wednesday, it could be at the expense of his best man at his wedding, Rahul, which will be one of those poignant coincidences movie-makers would give an arm and a leg for. If the team management opts to field him in Vijay’s place, it will be an even bigger hit with the publicists. What can be more endearingly sappy than two men who played for the country’s junior team as teenagers linking arms to form the present and the future of Indian batting? What, indeed?