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How Mayank Agarwal might add new dynamics to India's opening picture in ODIs

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Agarwal made his ODI debut earlier this year in New Zealand

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How Mayank Agarwal might add new dynamics to India's opening picture in ODIs

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Harshit Anand

11/26/2020

In space of 7 deliveries, Mayank hits three sixes of RR spinners which has class and chutzpah written all over and keeps the adrenaline rush going. First one is smoked straight for a humongous hit, second one is a lofted beauty over long-off while the third one is again creamed down the ground. 

If there was any door left to crack for Mayank Agarwal, it was IPL, a tournament where, at times, he has batted out of place and at times, out of touch. His journey has been a tedious one given the sheer mountain of runs he had to heap to get selected for Tests. He had hammered runs everywhere be it Ranji trophy, Syed Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare trophy, and the IPL was the last jigsaw in the puzzle. But the blood, toil, tears and sweat that he put in for years, came through this season and his magnificent hundred against Rajasthan Royals in Sharjah, the second fastest hundred by an Indian in IPL history, epitomized what he brings to the plate in white-ball cricket. He not only scored at a rate of knots but also stamped his authority and class with the willow in hand.

That he took over the aggressor role over KL Rahul, who was in the form of his life, and his powerplay exploits and knocks were talked about more positively than India's deputy to Virat Kohli for the Australia series, KL Rahul, was a story itself. And it didn't come in a low stake IPL, a lot of things were on the line for Mayank. After proving himself over and again in white-ball cricket at the domestic level, he had failed in his maiden ODI series against New Zealand. But he played with fire, took the tougher role than a well-established KL Rahul and his temperament and daredevilry helped him stand-out among a plethora of talents and get recognition among fans. 

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In fact, in IPL 2020, no Indian opener shone through as much as Agarwal as he made 424 runs in 11 games at an exceptional strike-rate of 156.45. He had the best strike-rate among Indian openers in powerplay overs. In middle-overs, he had a blazing strike-rate of 174.44. And it's not just IPL, the 29-year-old has a terrific record in 50-overs format as well. The right-hander has hammered 4,035 runs in List A cricket at an average of 48.03 with an excellent strike-rate of 100.84. And he has a great track record for India A as well. And now, he is likely to be a starter in absence of Rohit Sharma ahead of Shubman Gill for the ODI series against Australia. 

The Shikhar Dhawan conundrum

Rohit Sharma's place in limited-overs cricket is undisputed. But for Shikhar Dhawan, that's hardly the case with the rise of KL Rahul as he has stolen the thunder from Dhawan and is a must in the T20I side as an opener. As gun a player Dhawan has been in 50-overs format, he hasn't quite taken the world by storm in the last two years. In fact, among the Indian batsmen who have made 500 or more runs in the last couple of years, Dhawan has the worst average (41.83) with even Jadhav having a better average (42.08) while the likes of Rohit, Virat, Rahul, Dhoni and Iyer are far ahead as all are averaging in excess of 50. He has just two centuries in the aforementioned time frame. Dhawan had a mediocre 2019 as he averaged 36.44 after 18 games and if not for the home ODIs, this year, his performances were ordinary, at best.

Now, that wouldn't have been much of an issue given his class as he is right there among the best openers of the 21st century but then he is on the wrong side of the age as well, with Agarwal ready to nail down the opening slot. Dhawan will be turning 35 in a few days time and his reflexes would only slow down with age. Given he opens and faces the brand new cherry with fast bowlers fresh and firing on all cylinders, it doesn't bode well for the Men in Blue. And in all honesty, there is little or no context to bilateral ODIs, so it's all about the World Cup. And Dhawan will be well over 37 by the time 2023 World Cup takes place. 

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In fact, India have an ageing top-order at their disposal as Rohit Sharma will be almost 36 while Virat will be 34 and half. Given what Rohit and Virat bring to the plate and also their form in the last two years, they will surely be India’s kingpins but there is a need to have a relatively younger player in comparison to Dhawan, and Mayank is exactly in that phase of his cricketing journey, which we call the peak of a batsman - be it age or form-wise. Then why have someone who's hovering close to the end of his career when in Mayank, there is a ready made opener at his zenith?

Another thing that works in Agarwal's favor is like we have seen in Tests, IPL, or domestic cricket, he is among the best players of spin in the country, if not the best, and has the power game to take the spinners to the cleaners in middle-overs. At times, Dhawan gets found out in terms of attacking options against spinners which compels him to retort to unconventional shots like reverse hits, which he isn’t best at. So, Mayank can give impetus in middle-overs against spin instead of just milking the ball around for ones and twos, which will add new dynamics to India’s batting.

Also, India have this strong inkling towards having the same faces across formats as they like consistency in their team. Mayank Agarwal is already India's sure shot Test opener, in fact, no one has scored more Test runs than him since his debut, which is no mean feat and shows his caliber at the highest-level. In T20Is, KL Rahul has been so phenomenal that he has turned into the first-choice opener alongside Rohit Sharma. Dhawan is effectively a starter in only one format and with his age and not-so-terrific form of late in ODIs, Mayank stands tall in that regard too.

The Big Test

This promises to be a great series to witness how both Dhawan and Agarwal perform. Shikhar is certainly not finished yet and given his IPL form, he would put into action all his experience to strongly stake a claim to retain his place. But he is in that age bracket, where loss of form creates more ruckus than any time before as inconsistency gets correlated with age. And no wonder with slowing reflexes if not right now, six months or a year down the line, when he is 36, and there is loss of form, hyped media pressure, breakout stars in the reckoning, suddenly form becomes a tough train to catch.

For Agarwal, he has done everything right and if he comes all guns blazing against the Men in Yellow, if it doesn't result in him nailing down a slot in the XI, he will surely establish himself as the first-choice backup if in case something goes wrong with Rohit or Dhawan, who are staring down at a peculiar time of age, where once things starts going awry, comeback turns harder to materialize as in the long lost glory days.

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