“He was attacking, solid in defence and showed immaculate judgement and oodles of patience to ride over the good spells”
It has taken quite a while for Mayank Agarwal to get that coveted Test cap but when he did finally make it at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day, it couldn’t have been more daunting. India’s incumbent openers were both dropped and partnering Mayank was Hanuma Vihari who is basically a middle-order batsman. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were licking their lips at the first sight of MCG which appeared to have a nice grass covering but the underneath was drier and as Vihari defended staunchly, Mayank looked to score.
The Karnataka appeared to have little nerves as he took long strides forward and met the fast bowlers with intent in every stroke. Judgements about him were still reserved as he played a couple of gorgeous drives off Hazlewood because Australia’s bowler of the series, Nathan Lyon, was yet to bowl.
You could sense Tim Paine itching to bring in Lyon as Starc lost swing and Hazlewood failed to extract seam movement. As early as the eighth over of the innings, Lyon came into the attack, the earliest a spinner had been introduced on day 1 at MCG. The off-spinner had been a thorn in India’s golden series so far. With two five-wicket hauls and knocking over each of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, Lyon had the wood over most of India’s batsmen. He was the highest wicket-taker in the series with 16 wickets and the dryness at MCG was his to exploit.
What stood in his way was a very positive, not uncertain Mayank Agarwal on debut. A fantastic player of spin, Mayank slashed Lyon to cover of the first delivery he bowled at the opener. Taking a big stride forward, Mayank threw his bat horizontally to Lyon’s floater outside off-stump. There was no run taken but the intent was established.
A similar ball next up and Mayank plays a similar shot, only better. He has timed this too well and placed it perfectly to hit the fence. Next over as Lyon gears up to bowl to the opener, he is coming around the wicket and the mid-on had gone back to the fence even without Mayank having to take the aerial route.
The intent which was so missing from India’s batsmen against Lyon this series was there to be seen in Mayank’s strides and confidence-oozing steps towards the spinner. It took him just two balls to force Lyon to alter his plans. From attacking, Lyon had moved over to defence in just one over.
The off-spinner is prolific against right-handers. 212 of Lyon’s 334 wickets in Tests are right-handers. Off-spinners are believed to be more effective against southpaws but Lyon is different. In the pre-game show, Michael Clarke on air raised a very valid point about Nathan Lyon and how the Indians were playing him. Lyon has a natural inward angle to right-handers which gives him a natural drift into the right-handed batsmen. Combine this with the act that he spins the ball in and he virtually needs a leg-side field every time because the off-side is cut off by his angle and sharp turn.
Indian batsmen were making a mistake when playing Lyon. They were either sweeping him from outside off-stump, a risky proposition, or stepping out to him. When they dance down the rack to Lyon, they were moving in the direction of the umpire which works in favour of Lyon because he has this natural drift in. The batsman is making himself vulnerable to inside edging Lyon because there is no room left to flick or smother the ball down the ground.
The off-side was virtually non-existent for them. This Mayank changed in no time. The opener was either playing Lyon on the full or stepping out by staying leg-side of the ball which created room on the off for him, something not even Kohli had done. This enabled Mayank to play the inside out drives against Lyon and the off-spinner was immediately put off his rhythm. He was nudged, smashed down the ground, driven through covers and lofted over cow corner for six. Suddenly, the spinner had no place to hide as Mayank showed the Indian batsmen how the ‘Lyon’ could be tamed.
The brief tussle ended as Mayank edged Cummins to the keeper but on debut against a potent attack, the debutant had shown everything India missed with Rahul. He was attacking, solid in defence and showed immaculate judgement and oodles of patience to ride over the good spells. These are early days to get too excited about Mayank but if Boxing Day is anything to go by, India needed him earlier on this tour.