Mayank Agarwal has set an example to every cricketer who spends season after season in the domestic circuit – that if you are persistent and unrelenting, you can make it big at the international level.
Following up on his maiden ton in Vizag, he once again came up with another brilliant century and while he could not do a repeat of a “daddy hundred”, he still played a mighty fine innings. After Virat Kohli won the toss and opted to bat on a hazy morning at Pune, India would have been expecting another solid start from the newly-formed opening partnership of Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal.
Things didn’t quite go to plan for Rohit as he was dismissed off Kagiso Rabada in the 10th over off a ball that was nearly unplayable. The South African opening bowlers, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada were unrelenting in their lengths and caused a few jitters and managed to even create a few half chances.
The Pune track, which received a warning when it last hosted a Test Match against Australia in 2017, did have a sprinkle of grass on it and Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara who joined him found it tough initially. Debutant Anrich Nortje, early in his spell, struck Agarwal on his helmet off a short ball but it did not faze him at all and he responded duly with a stunning cover drive on the up off the very next delivery.
While the conditions were not completely bowler-friendly, it was difficult to play shots freely and it was a disciplined effort from Agarwal who respected the quality of the bowling attack as well as the conditions.
Just as South Africa were looking to press home the advantage, Agarwal managed to wrestle back some momentum and scored three boundaries in a single over off Anrich Nortje. The crisp drives he played off his front-foot stood out and Agarwal started to stamp his authority as he felt more settled into his innings. Agarwal and Pujara negotiated their way to lunch and India were in a steady position heading into the afternoon session.
Agarwal and Pujara, post-lunch, continued to build the partnership and started to look much more comfortable. The spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Senuran Muthusamy, were played out with relative ease and on an opening day track that did not offer much turn, the two batsman were looking good for a big one. Agarwal showed his full repertoire of shots and managed to get to another half-century – his fifth score of 50 or more in just his 6th Test match.
Coincidentally, all of his 50+ scores have come in the first innings and he averages almost 90 in the first innings but just 17.25 in the second innings – however, with the was he is playing he has enough time to put that right. On the other hand, Pujara, as his usual template goes, was naturally positive against the spinners and played some lovely shots as he reached his half-century, as well. However, just on the stroke of tea, Pujara nicked a delivery on good length from Kagiso Rabada to the skipper Du Plessis standing at first slip and the 138-run partnership came to an end.
Mayank Agarwal, though, was hardly flustered by it and looked quite at ease until Nortje came back for a spell and decided to attack Agarwal with a barrage of short deliveries and test his patience. While there were some iffy moments, Agarwal managed to negotiate the spell and showed his intent against the spinners.
As he was approaching towards the 90s and edging closer to his second century in two Test Matches, he decided to take on and in true Virender Sehwag style – whom Agarwal claimed as his idol, hit two sixes off consecutive deliveries to get to 99. In the next over, Agarwal guided an outside the off stump delivery from Philander past the first slip to the third man boundary to reach the landmark.
As he celebrated with lofted arms and a look towards the heavens, he must have been so relieved to finally make his mark at the international level and truly cement his place in the Indian Test side.
After all, two years ago, Pune was the very same venue where his career changed for good. He nearly got dropped from his state team Karnataka after going through a terrible run of form but as fate was meant to be, Karnataka backed him and he managed to score a triple hundred in that game. He ended up scoring more than 1000 runs in the 2017-18 domestic season and all his toil was finally rewarded with an Indian call-up in 2018. And boy, what a start to his Test career it has been, and one hopes this can continue and he flourishes for many years to come.