The warm-up match against County Select XI did more bad than good for India. Washington Sundar and Avesh Khan, who were part of the Indian contingent for the tour of England joined Shubman Gill in the injury list.
With Gill out, it paves way for Mayank Agarwal to come into the game and perhaps resurrect his Test career, which had started off brilliantly. Making his debut at the MCG against Australia in 2018, Agarwal scored two fifties in his first three innings, and in the home series against South Africa and Bangladesh, he further cemented his place with scores of 215, 108 and 243.
As a result, Agarwal became the third-fastest Indian batsman to score 1,000 Test runs, bringing up the milestone in 19 innings.
Going back to the game against County Select XI, one of Agarwal’s biggest flaws was exposed, especially in the first innings when he was bowled for 28. A tally of 1,052 Test runs at a healthy average of 47.53 does not look bad, but Agarwal’s technique has to be addressed ahead of the Test series.
The team management is happy to fly in Prithvi Shaw despite having the likes of Agarwal and Abhimanyu Easwaran in the squad, showing a lack of faith in their abilities. Not to forget, even KL Rahul, who has tasted a lot of success as an opener, is also not being considered. It is given to understand that the management does not want to expose him to the new ball given his fragilities against the moving ball.
Speaking of Shaw, he was dropped after a poor show in the Adelaide Test as his high back lift and his lack of footwork was clearly exposed when his defences were breached on a couple of occasions. What did he do? He went back to domestic cricket, rectified his technique, scored a butt load of runs, and today, he is back in contention.
According to Shaw’s childhood coach Prashant Shetty, the India batsman worked on the initial movements, which were a tad late earlier. Due to the high back lift, Shaw was not able to get the bat down in time to negotiate the incoming balls efficiently. By the time the bat came down, the ball would have sneaked into the gap between bat and pad and crashed into the stumps.
And, Agarwal too has some issues with his technique.
Playing with soft hands
One is that due to his high back lift, his bat comes down on the ball so hard and as a result, it becomes extremely difficult for him to play the ball with soft hands, as explained in the video below by Ricky Ponting.
When you play with hard hands or in simpler words, push at the ball, you are often susceptible to outside edges that carry to the fielders or even a perfect candidate for a bat-pad catch.
Since he made his debut in 2018, Agarwal had widened his stance,i.e, the distance between his front and back foot has increased when he gears up to take strike. As a result, he does not have the right balance to go either front or back as beautifully explained by Sunil Gavaskar – a legendary opening batsman himself – in the video below.
Gavaskar goes on to explain that in Australian conditions, where there is more bounce than usual, one needs to use his back foot to good effect, which Agarwal has failed to do. Even in England, decisive footwork is going to be key for Agarwal and the rest of the Indian batsmen. It will be interesting to see if he makes any subtle changes leading up to the first Test.
However, Agarwal’s coach at the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC), Irfan Sait reckons, the wide stance could be used to counter swing and bounce effectively. “You can counter the swing bowling on the front foot. This is the advice that has come from even Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin. If you can negate the bounce by playing on the front foot and counter the swing, I think it is a very effective method of overcoming this,” Sait told Cricket.com.
Sait, who took Agarwal in his wing at the age of 15, adds that there is no risk in such a technique. He said, “We don’t see that as a risk. It is a tactical thing. The batsmen stand a foot outside the crease, maybe two feet outside the crease when the ball is swinging a lot, forcing the bowler to pitch shorter and not allowing the ball to swing. These are the tactical things that the coaches ask to try. So, we need to give them a fair run.”
From Agarwal’s debut to the start of the 2020-21 tour of Australia, seven of his 12 dismissals in Tests came when he was on the back foot, averaging 30.3 against the fast bowlers (SR 46.7). However, since then, he has been dismissed just once in six innings while playing back against the quicks but has managed just 13 runs (SR 20.3) against them – an indication perhaps that playing off the back foot is more for the sake of survival and not scoring quick runs.
If the warm-up match is anything to go by, Agarwal is not going to make any yawning changes to his technique, but instead, find ways to make the best of what he has at his disposal.
With Shaw added to the India squad for the Test series, it’s a clear indication that Agarwal might not feature in all the Tests in England. However, with whatever opportunity he is presented with, his aim will be to ensure he makes it hard for the management to drop him.
In his brief Test career, 1,005 runs out of his 1,052 have come as an opener. He could once again get a chance to open at Trent Bridge and in the absence of Gill, he could make a strong case for himself.
He has toiled hard in domestic cricket for years, made runs for fun, and has been a terrific find for India as well. While it could be a tad unfair on him, the tussle for competition in the Indian team – a healthy one – has led a prolific run-getter like Agarwal too struggle to cement his place in the team.
Since his 58 in Wellington, he has scored just 88 runs from eight innings and has gone past double figures just twice, which has put his position in the team in a lurch.
This could indeed be a golden opportunity for Agarwal to make the selectors and the team management take notice of his batting prowess, once again.