Exclusive: We're not competing for a place, says Mayank Agarwal

Mayank Agarwal was man-of-the-match when India beat New Zealand in the second Test to clinch the series in Mumbai. (BCCI)
Mayank Agarwal was man-of-the-match when India beat New Zealand in the second Test to clinch the series in Mumbai. (BCCI)

Has Agarwal done enough to reclaim his opening slot from KL Rahul?



by

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Sat 11 Dec 2021, 11:29 PM

Last updated: Sat 11 Dec 2021, 11:46 PM

If Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul had not missed the recent Test series against New Zealand, Mayank Agarwal would have continued his role as a squad player. Like he had done all summer in England as well as in winter this year against the same team.

But Rohit and Rahul’s absence gave Agarwal an opportunity to face the new ball and he grabbed it with both hands, scoring 150 and 62 in India’s resounding win in the second Test to stake his claim for a permanent place as an opener.

After a stupendous start to his Test career, the 30-year-old Bangalore batsman had hit a bump, paving the way for a two-way fight between Rahul and the prodigious Shubman Gill to partner Rohit in the top-order.

But now Agarwal’s match-winning effort on a difficult Mumbai pitch will give captain Virat Kohli and new coach Rahul Dravid plenty of selection headaches as the team set sail for a three-Test series in South Africa this month.

Has Agarwal done enough to reclaim his opening slot from Rahul, his good friend from Bangalore who showed plenty of grit and class in seaming conditions in England?

But Agarwal, during an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, has made it clear that Indian players never compete against each other as there is no such culture in the dressing room.

Watching your man-of-the-match-winning performance, it felt like everything was falling in place….

Well, it was definitely a great feeling to be back scoring runs and contributing to the team's victory. So that was a fantastic feeling.

Mayank Agarwal scored 150 and 62 in the second Test against New Zealand in Mumbai. (BCCI)
Mayank Agarwal scored 150 and 62 in the second Test against New Zealand in Mumbai. (BCCI)

You already have Test double hundreds and hundreds. You even scored 76 on Test debut at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Where would you rank this Test hundred against New Zealand on a difficult pitch – one on which Ajaz Patel made history by taking all 10 wickets in the first innings?

Well, to be honest, I'm not the person who is big on comparison. So, you know, I think this innings, I would not rate it, in terms of numbers, but I would definitely say that this innings was about a lot of grit, determination and resilience.

The BCCI shared images of you smiling in front of the Wankhede honours board which has your name now among some legendary centurions….

It was definitely a proud moment. It was a fantastic feeling to actually score 100 at the Wankhede. Mumbai is one of the biggest hubs, if not the biggest hub, for cricket in India, and you know, to be scoring runs there and contributing to the team’s win, was a really proud moment for me. And having the name on the honors board was just the icing on the cake. It's a memory that I'll cherish for the rest of my life.

The competition for places is intense in the Indian team. Whether it’s the white-ball format or the red-ball. In the Test team, you face competition from Shubman Gill, KL Rahul to partner Rohit Sharma….

Very honestly, we're not competing for a place. No. All of us are competing against another side. That is the culture in the team that all of us help each other get better as peers, you know, try and find ways to help each other, try and find ways to improve as players ourselves. And the competition is always against another side and not so much within the team. If you keep improving yourself and if you can help others improve, the standard is going to go up, which only bodes well for Indian cricket.

As a team, do you think it is India’s best chance to win their first-ever Test series in South Africa, considering India’s solid performances abroad in recent years?

Definitely I think, we have played extremely good cricket over the years, and, especially abroad. That's something that we have always spoken about and we've thoroughly enjoyed going abroad and performing and winning. So the same is for South Africa. I wouldn't say it's the best chance, that's not for us to decide. But yes, I think as a team, it is very important that we, as players, are prepared really well. We working really hard, preparing really well to give the best opportunity for ourselves to succeed.

Agarwal with new head coach Rahul Dravid. (Twitter)
Agarwal with new head coach Rahul Dravid. (Twitter)

You have worked with Rahul Dravid in the past with India A. Having come from the same city, he is a big source of inspiration for all Bangalore players. So it must be a great opportunity for you to have him as the coach in the team now…

It is a fantastic opportunity to be actually working with Rahul bhai. He’s a very smart cricket brain. He's somebody who's also helped a lot of us who played India A. So it's a great feeling. He's such a good student of the game. And he's definitely somebody that we talk to a lot about our cricket, how to improve, how to get better and how to handle different situations. And he's always been that person who is always helping and guiding. So it's fantastic to have him (in the team).

It must have been a nice feeling to be among the retained players in the IPL. You have been prolific for the Punjab franchise. Does it inspire you to fight for a permanent place in the Indian white-ball team?

Mayank Agarwal has been a prolific run-getter for Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League. (BCCI)
Mayank Agarwal has been a prolific run-getter for Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League. (BCCI)

I'm exceedingly happy that I've been retained by Punjab. It's a great opportunity for me to represent Punjab again. Having represented them for four years, it feels nice to go back again and be part of the team for longer. So I have been very happy with the performances that I've had for Punjab and, and that's something that I look forward to doing. Just keep performing for Punjab. Hopefully, we can do better as a team, you know, qualify and win the tournament. That's, something that we take it up as a challenge. We want to win the IPL for Punjab. And, I think if we put in those performances and help the team win, then the selection will take care of itself.

Finally, we have to ask you this. Despite being one of the most consistent performers in domestic cricket, you endured a long wait to make your India debut. So based on your experience, what advice would you give to the talented Indian youngsters as many of them will also probably have to show patience for an India cap…

Mayank Agarwal was 27 when he finally made his Test debut in 2018. He scored 76 in that Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. (AFP)
Mayank Agarwal was 27 when he finally made his Test debut in 2018. He scored 76 in that Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. (AFP)

First of all, I think the Indian domestic circuit teaches you a lot. It's a fantastic place for you as a person to play and learn. So, the more and more you play cricket, the better you get. You know, India being such a diverse country, you play in different conditions. You almost play in all kinds of conditions. You get to learn a lot, you get to understand a lot about yourself and that's something that helped me. Not everyone's journey is going to be the same. I think it's about having resilience, having the discipline to improve your game, having the discipline to get better and better. And then some people might get it early on, some people might be a little later, but it's about trying to be the best cricketer that you can be and then the opportunities usually will come your way. But it teaches you a lot about yourself whether you can be disciplined for that much longer if you have the patience to keep fighting it out over and over again.


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