1064 and counting... Mayank Agarwal has been phenomenal this season    IANS
1064 and counting… Mayank Agarwal has been phenomenal this season IANS

In December 1927 Bill Ponsford had piled up a staggering 1,146 runs from 5 innings. This is the Ponsford we are talking about a man who finished with a First-Class batting average of 65.18. His willow consumed the South Australians, Queenslanders and New South Welshmen; the sequence read 133, 437, 202, 38 and 336. For 90 years, he remained the only batsman to have registered the feat of scoring 1,000 runs in a month outside England. Now, welcome Mayank Agarwal

Rewind a month earlier, the axe loomed over Mayank s fortunes. He is 26. The competition for the national berth (the No. 1 Test side) is intense. They used to call him a child prodigy, but the sand was slipping to the base of the hourglass. He had found little success in the India A games against New Zealand. He had started his Ranji Trophy campaign with 31 before getting a pair against Hyderabad. Karnataka had every reason to drop him.

(Trivia: In June 1949, Len Hutton scored 1,294 runs in a month. Two of the matches were Tests. He enjoyed a streak of 7 hundreds in 7 games that included a pair and even 3 ducks in a row. From May 18 to July 5, he played everyday. He was 33, and these days we talk about player burnouts.)

In other words, to the average Indian cricket fan, Mayank Agarwal was some guy who plays those occasional good knocks in the IPL and sometimes plays for the India A sides.

November, 2013. The nation was immersed in extreme emotions as Sachin Tendulkar prepared for the swansong. Mayank finally got his Karnataka cap and made his First-Class debut against Jharkhand at Mysore. He impressed with a 144-ball 90. He made a few jaws drop at the ground when he cracked the express pace of Varun Aaron over cover for six.

Inconsistency would continue to remain his foe since. Despite a good start to his career he would go on to finish the season with 380 runs at 34.54. Four years of toil in the Ranji circuit had seen Mayank register 1,757 runs from 29 matches with 2 hundreds to his name. He has now scored almost 60 per cent of that number in a month s span; hence the hullaballoo. And a run this incredible (304*, 176, 23, 90, 133*, 173 and 134), that too over such a short span, has never been witnessed in Indian cricket. The century tally has propelled to 7.

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The numbers will leave the average cricket fan awestruck. However, if you talk to the Karnataka cricket fraternity, they will tell you that this was long due. The emotion there has more to do with joy, elation and satisfaction than surprise or awe. Since his junior days, he had a knack towards scoring big, but things just did not fall in place for him at the senior level. Over-thinking and over-analysis can have detrimental effects. In fact, Mayank s batting coach RX Muralidhar calls him, “too organised .

Mayank used to be a prolific opener since his Under-13 days with Bishop Cotton Boys School, Bengaluru. An ardent Virender Sehwag fan, Mayank always possessed his hero s carefree approach. He scored 432 runs in the Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy.

In April 2009, he played his first game for India Under-19s, an unofficial ODI against Australia at Hobart. India posted a massive 371 courtesy Mayank s 160 and won by 187 runs. If the Hobart knock was more about an opener s responsibility to bat throughout the innings, his next innings, at WACA, Perth, against the same opposition, saw him breeze to a 37-ball 60 before falling to Sean Abbott. A year later he would go on to be the top the batting charts for India in their otherwise disappointing 2010 Under-19 World Cup campaign.

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Karnataka have benefitted from the Mayank-madness. They have soared to 32 points to top Group A. When they lock horns against the typically ruthless Mumbai in the quarterfinal at Nagpur, they will certainly look at Mayank to lead the charge.

Mayank s tally for the season reads 1,064, and the tournament is yet to reach its knockout leg. When he marks his guard against Mumbai, the number-crunchers will have the following table open.

Most runs in a single season of Ranji Trophy

Batsman Runs Season HS Ave 100s 50s
VVS Laxman (Hyderabad) 1,415 1999-00 353 108.84 8 0
Shreyas Iyer (Mumbai) 1,321 2015-16 200 73.38 4 7
Priyank Panchal (Gujarat) 1,310 2016-17 314* 87.33 5 4
Vijay Bharadwaj (Karnataka) 1,280 1998-99 200* 106.66 4 7
Wasim Jaffer (Mumbai) 1,260 2008-09 301 84.0 4 5

This piece, however, is about the turnaround. It is about an important lesson on the role the mind plays in changing fortunes. If Mayank deserves the credit for the resurgence, so does his coach RX Muralidhar for being the force behind. Suvajit Mustafi, over a telephonic chat, got insights from the man himself and his personal batting coach in an attempt to decode the Mayank-mystery.

CricketCountry (CC): Congratulations, Mayank: 304*, 176, 23, 90, 133, and now 173 and 134 against Railways. What is the formula behind this super-consistency?

Mayank Agarwal (MA): A lot of preparation has gone into this. Working on different situations before the season has helped. Murali would create situations for me. For example, this is the first 20 overs of the match; how would you bat in them? He would put me in a spot and leave it to me on how would I respond. I like to bat the free-flowing way but here I was reacting to those situations: often playing shots and often leaving the balls. I understood my game and mindset better.

RX Muralidhar (RXM): We have been working together since three years. This is my fourth year as his batting coach but I have coached him since his teenage days. I have seen him play long innings. If you have seen him bat in the game against Australia Under-19 back in 2009 you will know what I mean. He got plenty of runs in the Duleep Trophy (in 2016). It was a matter of time. To let go was important. Credit to him for working hard pre-season. The meditation technique Vipasana and taking care of his body by running, has all contributed to the bigger cause.

(Trivia: Gautam Gambhir made a return to India s Test side in the 2016-17 season courtesy a good run in the Duleep Trophy, where matches were played with the pink ball. However, Gambhir s partner Mayank was the most successful opener in the competition. He amassed 420 runs at 84 including a hundred and 4 fifties from 6 innings.)

CC: The turnaround from 2 hundreds in 31 matches to 7 in 35 including a triple has been phenomenal. Was the change more technical or mental?

MA: I think it s a combination of both. It s about understanding the game and the mindset. You want to do certain things in certain ways, which make you feel good. Technique is important. But now I am not afraid to fail. Letting the fear of failure go was key here.

RXM: He would obsess over technique. When runs did not come, he would fret over technique like my technique isn t good enough . We decided to give technique a backseat and prepared for skill-based coaching pre-season. It was important to work on the mental side. The goal is to play at the highest level. More than the goal, the path to reach there is important. It was time to focus on that and let go of the insecurities attached to the goal. He kept asking, what if I fail? Well, you fail then you fail; that s not the end of the world.

RX Muralidhar with former Australian cricketer and renowned coach Jason Gillespie    RX Muralidhar Facebook
RX Muralidhar with former Australian cricketer and renowned coach Jason Gillespie (Courtesy: RX Muralidhar Facebook)

Technique is fine but the ultimate objective is to score runs and help your team win. We focused on that and concentrated on situation-based training.

CC: The national selectors met on Monday to pick squads. Were you expecting a call-up?

RXM: I would be lying if I say I wasn t expecting his name. But what can you do about things you cannot control? This is a journey. He is on a positive path and it is not the end of the road and it s 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. If he continues to be his consistent, his time shall come.

Expected national call-up for Mayank Agarwal, says coach RX Muralidhar
Expected national call-up for Mayank Agarwal, says coach RX Muralidhar

CC: What happened after the pair against Hyderabad?

MA: I guess it came at the right time. I was already working on the letting go part. I got another chance. I knew it was a do-or-die situation for me but I let go of the fear of failure. I told myself I had nothing to lose.

RXM: Honestly, I felt it was over for him this season [after the pair against Hyderabad]. I was sure they would drop him. We shared a laugh and it would be unfair to reveal what we spoke. He received tremendous backing from his teammates. I told him to let go the fear of performance pressure, continue what he is doing and have fun. And he really practiced that.

He was actually batting well even before the triple ton. It was just that runs were not coming. Kudos to him for training his mind in positive way.

Mayank is very organised. It was uncharacteristic of him to not come for practice for two days before the Pune game. He let go the pressure of the what-if-I-don t and then came the triple ton. That 300 wasn t his [natural] game to be honest, but that changed the course. All the knocks that followed are how the real Mayank plays.

CC: Twenty-eight days, 7 innings and 1,033 runs. Len Hutton, Bill Ponsford too have done that. You are in a rare and illustrious club. Have you set any goals in terms of runs?

MA: It s a great feeling to score 1,000 runs in a month. I didn t know about these feats. I haven t set any goals or targets. I just want to focus on what I have been doing and continue to do it for as long as I can.

CC: Now that he has caught the world s attention, every innings from heron will be under the microscopic vision. Does it add pressure?

RXM: 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 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.

CC: Karnataka has an illustrious dressing room. What do the teammates have to say?

MA: They have kept supporting me. They are extremely happy and they encourage me to continue this run.

RXM: He has great friends in the side who have always backed him. The captain too believed him in despite the pair.

CC: At Pune you batted for over 12 hours (727 minutes). Is it the longest you have batted?

MA: Yes, I think that is the longest I have batted. It was satisfying and I am very happy about it.

CC: This run is surreal. Can you throw more light on the pre-season training?

MA: I was facing around 700 to 1,000 balls every day. Again, credit to the coach for delivering me that. There were hardly any technical adjustments and I am just more relaxed in my stance. I trained my mind to let go the fear of failure. I asked myself questions like, so what if I fail?

Mayank Agarwal: I was facing around 1,000 balls everyday ahead of Ranji Trophy 2017-18
Mayank Agarwal: I was facing around 1,000 balls everyday ahead of Ranji Trophy 2017-18

RXM: Yes, it was more of developing the subconscious mind. The ability was always there.

CC: It s a known fact that you are extremely fond of Virender Sehwag. However, like Sehwag in his early days, you too were dubbed as a limited-overs batter. How do you see your career moving ahead?

MA: I have always loved to watch him bat. You just can t copy him. Be it his playing style or his persona, he is unique. I can t compare myself to an Indian great and I don t believe in comparisons.

I am not thinking much about my future. I have left it to God. I just want to do things in my control and leave the rest to Him.

Mayank and AB de Villiers (right). Mayank started his IPL career with RCB in 2011 (Courtesy: Mayank Agarwal's Facebook)
Mayank and AB de Villiers (right). Mayank started his IPL career with RCB in 2011 (Courtesy: Mayank Agarwal’s Facebook)

CC: You have spent a lot of time with Rahul Dravid, at India A and Delhi Daredevils. What sort of influence has he created?

MA: He is a bundle of knowledge. There is lot to learn from him, especially his mindset in terms of how to prepare for a match, how to prepare for a tournament and how to switch off. He made me realise that there is a fine line in between playing your natural game and playing according to the situation. This helped me work on my shot selection.

CC: Rising Pune Supergiant finished runners-up this season. However, you did not get enough chances. How frustrating was it to be in the sidelines?

MA: It s a team game. I played a few matches and I have no complains. We came extremely close to the title. Overall, we played some very good cricket.

(Trivia: Mayank has played for Royal Challengers Bangalore, DD and RPS in IPL. He has played 53 matches till date and scored 814 runs at 17.69. His most notable performance in the tournament came in the 2012 edition of the RCB-Mumbai Indians match, where he slammed a 30-ball 64 not out against the likes of Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh.)

CC: At RPS you got an opportunity to interact with the likes of MS Dhoni, Steven Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, Ben Stokes, etc. Can you throw light on the experience?

MA: It was an enriching experience. It was in fact great to share the dressing-room with them. There was a lot of learn. They were encouraging in every step, always willing to help with their time and inputs.

CC: During the 2016 IPL, Quinton de Kock told CricketCountry, I love batting with Mayank Agarwal. Very chilled, we like to have fun out there when we play. I have a good relationship with him. We just enjoy it all the time. What s this special equation?

MA: We are both stroke-makers and complement each other well. Plus, a left-hand and right-hand combination is always difficult for bowlers. We were good friends off the field and the camaraderie extended on to the field as well.

CC: Finally, on a lighter note. It is pretty evident now that you love to bat. Who are your favourite batting partners?

MA: Manish (Pandey) and Sam (Ravikant Samarth).

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Pandey, a Team India star and one of Mayank s favourite batting partners, had prophesised after his 176 against Delhi (his second century of the season): It ll be easy for him to score about 1,000 runs (this season) if he keeps batting this way.