By Our Sports Affairs Bureau/Agencies
INDORE: 1st Test, ICC World Test Championship at Indore in Madhya Pradesh on Friday saw Bengal Tigers fade in the face of Mayank Agarwal’s brutal self-discipline.
Mayank Agarwal is never in two minds. It shows whenever he charges at a bowler. His mind is set on getting a boundary and he will have it no matter what. It was Bangladesh’s job to sow doubts into that line of thinking but by the end of the day they were left wondering if they were good enough. The India opener amassed 243 runs all by himself to power India into a commanding lead in Indore.
Agarwal has other shots. His drives, for example, are vivid. But nothing showcases his high backlift and a happy-go-lucky approach as well as when he runs at the bowler. He chose to do that nine times through the course of his innings, and failed to find the boundary only once. So confident was he with this tactic that he used it to get to his double-century.
And all the while Imrul Kayes just watched. He had been at slip when Agarwal, on 32, offered a straightforward chance off Abu Jayed. It went in and then it plopped out.
Bangladesh’s hopes of building on that moment of uncertainty, which happened on day one, were severely undercut by the poor work done by their spinners. Mehidy Hasan and Taijul Islam leaked boundaries, 33 of them; Agarwal alone cracked 19. That’s a rate of one every 10 balls, by the way. It was pure mayhem, and yet not altogether surprising considering the protagonist.
Agarwal goes at the ball really hard. He hits all around the park. He looked completely untroubled by the opposition. He played the innings we all do in our most shameless dreams because it was what his captain had specifically ordered.
When Agarwal had raised his bat for 150, Virat Kohli put up two fingers to make sure he kept going. Later, when Agarwal got his double and pointed two fingers back at the dressing room again, Kohli grinned and put up three.
India should have been celebrating not one but two centurions on Friday. Ajinkya Rahane had spoken about the relief he felt after breaking through a rut of middling scores after making 102 against West Indies in August and ever since then he seems to have rediscovered the flow in his game. There was hardly a stroke in anger, but never a lull in his scoring. India’s vice-captain finished with 86 runs off 172 balls. In all that time, he played only six false shots. One of them was his dismissal, off a powerful cut shot straight to the fielder at deep point.
Bangladesh spent most of the day waiting for those kinds of mistakes. Their bowlers couldn’t control the run flow, even though they had four men on the boundary in the fourth over of the day. It was clearly an omen when Agarwal creamed a half-volley through the covers for four off the second ball of that over. And the little moments of success Bangladesh had – like knocking out Cheteshwar Pujara early on the day and handing Kohli his 10th duck in 140 Test innings – didn’t offer any consolation.
India made 407 runs in the day, only the third time they’ve made more than 400. They went to stumps leading by a whopping 343, and towards the close, when the dressing room was up on its feet, screaming with glee as Ravindra Jadeja made his now-customary fifty and Umesh Yadav swung for the fences, it was hard to avoid the notion that this Test match had lot all pretence of being a contest.
In a recent chat with ESPNcricinfo, Mayank Agarwal said that, at some point a couple of years ago, he had grown tired of getting 20s and 30s. To get better at converting starts, he worked with his coach to break innings down into phases – the start, for instance, or the period once he’s settled – and developed patterns for each of them.
The transformation into a game suited for huge runs stemmed from that simplistic-sounding solution. But perhaps not even he could have imagined he could, once again, come close to batting as dominantly in Tests as he had during the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy season, in which he famously made 1000 runs in a month.
After just his fifth Test innings at home, Agarwal has three hundreds, two of them double-hundreds, and 583 runs at 116.60. After three fifties overseas without going past the 70s, he’s made centuries each time he’s reached 50 in this home season. The hardwired ability to convert starts has resurfaced.