VVS Laxman is an elegant act. With sublime cover drives, golden wrists and effortless stroke play, the Hyderabadi not only enticed Indian cricket fans but also the local ones when he hit a record 1415 runs in a Ranji season in 1999-2000.
The epic feat not only cemented his name into the Indian Test team at the time but also made him a big name in Indian cricketing circles. That the record has stood the test of time (17 long years) is evidence of how big a feat Laxman’s was.
However, one man, a relatively unheralded opener from Karnataka is on the cusp of putting Laxman’s name down from the top of the list after an astounding November saw him rack up more than 1000 runs in a single month.
We are talking of Mayank Agarwal who is the new sensation in Ranji circles following his stupendous run of form in the month of November. The Karnataka opener, who played for the Rising Pune Supergiant in the 2017 edition of the IPL, was thought of more as a limited-overs batsman but the outrageous month has seen him rack up 1064 runs in 28 days including a triple hundred and five tons in four consecutive matches.
“It is an extremely good feeling to get a triple hundred. I have never got that in any form at any level of cricket. It is a special feeling to achieve that feat,” Mayank said in an exclusive interview.
Only one other batsman in the history of first-class cricket’s recorded information has achieved a similar feat. That guy, the indomitable Bill Ponsford from Australia, made 1146 runs in the month of December way back in 1927.
Mayank has matched the legendary batsman’s first-class feat set 90 years ago with his sensational run for Karnataka.
An important aspect of Mayank’s run scoring fest is the strike rate of 68.38. In the previous two seasons, the opener had tried to be more defensive at the crease, something which goes against his natural gameplay. But this season has seen him resort to a much more on-the-face approach and so far, it has paid rich dividends.
“My mindset varies according to the different formats of the game. It also varies from situation to situation. If I have to talk exclusively about Ranji cricket, I try and understand the conditions, get acclimatised, then play myself in and then see how it goes,” Mayank says.
Only two years back, the dynamic batsman, who switches between opening and no.3, was unceremoniously dropped from the Karnataka Ranji team following some listless performances. He had them played close to three years of first-class cricket without scoring a single hundred.
The exclusion proved to be a source of motivation for Mayank. He vowed to become a better batsman, focus on his shortcomings and spends more time in the nets. Rahul Dravid, his India A coach at one time, states that it proved to be a wake-up call for Mayank.
“Maybe just being dropped from the Ranji Trophy side last year [has shaken him up],” Dravid had said. “He was not part of the side when they went on to win a final, in the XI. And I think that might have hurt him. You can say there was a certain amount of valid criticism because for a guy of his talent, not to get a first-class hundred [is not good]. It’s obviously tough in a side like Karnataka with so many young batsmen coming through. You’ve sort of got to really be consistent and score runs. And he missed out. So maybe, I think, that has been a really big wake-up call for him.”
It did indeed prove to be a critical factor in the emergence of Mayank Agarwal version 2.0.
This version was that of a dedicated student, spending countless hours practising and honing his skills in the backyard before effortlessly implementing the same in the examination.
Fitness has also played a role in Mayank’s resurgence. He has taken to high-intensity training and aced the yo-yo Test effortlessly, something mandatory to be picked in the Indian team of late.
“Speed and endurance play a huge role in the longest format of the game,” says Agarwal. “It is long-distance running that has helped me improve that facet of my game. It helps one focus for longer duration on the field and helps in recovery time after a long innings.”
The opener states that he runs 6-8 kilometres three times a week and that kind of intensity in training has given him the self-discipline and maturity to succeed in First-class games.
“To be honest, I have been working on my technique for the past two-three years. This year, I have a better understanding of where I am at. Obviously, there is a little fine tuning but I haven’t altered my technique, just understood it a little better. Every batsman is different and understanding my own game is of the utmost importance. A lot of skills-based training has also helped me”, Mayank says.
While there was widespread anticipation surrounding the squads for Sri Lanka and South Africa series, Mayank hasn’t made the cut in either despite his outrageous form in domestic cricket. But that does not bother the cheerful individual. He maintains that his job is to stick to his own “process” and not worry about selections which could materialise if the process keeps giving him such kind of success.
His feat in November, starting with a triple hundred after twin ducks in October, ended with hundreds in either innings in the final match of the month as Karnataka qualified to the quarter-finals of the Ranji Trophy, unbeaten.
Their star-studded line-up comprising of Lokesh Rahul, Karun Nair and Manish Pandey were always thought to be daunting, but it is Mayank who has stolen the limelight after a slew of scintillating knocks.
Knock, knock selectors!