Two years, three finals, three titles but one constant for Karnataka, Mayank Agarwal.
Since the start of 2018, Karnataka have reached three finals in white-ball cricket and they’ve won all of them. Agarwal has been their talisman and has driven the batting line-up in each of those three finals. 90 off 79, 85 off 57 and 69 off 55! These are Agarwal’s scores in the three finals that Karnataka have won in the last couple of years.
Ever since he scored 1000 runs in a month (November 2017) in first-class cricket (Ranji Trophy) in the 2017-18 season, the spotlight has constantly been on Agarwal. He churned out runs for fun, he scored hundreds at will and knocked the Indian selection door down. However, he had to wait quite a bit for his time to come and when it did, he cashed in.
But that’s international cricket and that too the longest format. In white-ball cricket, Agarwal continues to be on the fringes. However, he continues to make the right noises. He has continuously performed in high-pressure games and has led Karnataka to victory.
It was at the back end of that fabulous 2017-18 season, that first of those three finals came around. It was the Vijay Hazare Trophy final, Agarwal had already had a phenomenal season and was in fine touch, accumulating runs even in white-ball cricket after his exploits in the Ranji Trophy. Karnataka needed their in-form batsman to step up and there was Agarwal leading the charge for the nth time that season.
Opening the batting, he scored a fluent 90 off just 79 balls after his side were reduced to 5/2 inside three overs. In the pressure of a big final, Agarwal kept his cool and stabilised the innings. His 90 gave Karnataka the platform to get a fighting score (253) on the board. The bowlers responded really well to help Karnataka lift the title.
A little more than a year later, Agarwal was an India Test player. But as soon as his India commitments ended, he was back playing for Karnataka. However, they lost in the Ranji semi-finals. But in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (2018-19), they went all the way. Agarwal had a rather quiet tournament till the final. But come the big game, the big player stepped up yet again.
Chasing 156, Agarwal was out in the middle in the third over. He wasn’t opening in the tournament. Hence, he walked out to bat with the score reading 14/1. He started his innings with a bang, hitting two fours and a six to race away to 18 in no time and from then, he completely dominated the Maharashtra attack. In the end, he scored an unbeaten 85 off 57 balls (six fours and three sixes) to lead Karnataka to their first-ever Syed Mushtaq Ali title.
About seven months after leading Karnataka to the T20 triumph, Agarwal was at it once again. After a successful Test series against South Africa (340 runs from four innings which included two hundreds), he was back with his state side for the knockouts of the Vijay Hazare tournament. Despite there being just a day’s gap between the conclusion of the Test series and the semi-final, Agarwal joined the Karnataka side ahead of the semis.
Moreover, with the opening combination doing very well, Agarwal batted at 3. But it didn’t really make a difference. He struck a fluent 47 and wiped off the chase of 224 against Chhattisgarh. However, he saved the best for the big day, the final. After Karnataka bowlers pulled it back nicely to restrict Tamil Nadu to 252, it was up to their famed batting line-up to do the job.
However, that wasn’t required as Agarwal took care of most of the run-chase before bad light and rain decided to intervene and bring a premature end to the final. Chasing a little over five runs per over, Karnataka did get off to a flying start but lost the best batsman of the tournament, Devdutt Padikkal in the fifth over. Chasing any score in a final can be tricky. However, it wasn’t so much for Agarwal who simply stamped his authority on the Tamil Nadu bowlers.
It was just off his sixth delivery that he showed that he was in the zone. A sublime lofted extra-cover-drive which went all the way for six and there was Agarwal showing off his class. After that it was mostly the Mayank Agarwal show! Shot after shot, he just kept getting better. There was a certain KL Rahul at the other end who played second fiddle but Agarwal completely overshadowed his friend. In his 55-ball knock, the 28-year-old scored 69 and remained unbeaten when the rain came. The impact of his knock was such that Karnataka were way ahead of the par score and hence, eventually, lifted the trophy.
Inside two years, Agarwal has led Karnataka’s charge in three finals and helped them lift the title. In fact, not only in finals, he has mind-boggling numbers in Vijay Hazare knockouts. In his last seven innings in the knockouts of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the top-order bat has scored two hundreds, three fifties and averages a staggering 118.4.
Hence, Agarwal has been Karnataka’s talisman. There may be other senior batsmen and players in and around the team, but Agarwal has been the standout. He has been Karnataka’s man for the finals.