Agarkar has come of age

Written by: Sajith Balakrishnan
Published: Sunday, December 21, 2003, 17:43 [IST]
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At a time when the media's attention is drawn entirely to Dravid and Laxman, one should not forget the contribution of the man who provided them the platform to ride. With his career-best six-wicket haul, a pencil-thin frame called Ajit Bhalchandra Agarkar shell-shocked the Aussies on the fourth day of the Adelaide Test.

By rocking the Aussies in their own den on a batting track, Agarkar has finally come of age. The all-rounder's slot had felt vacant since the retirement of Kapil Dev. Ever since he scored a century and had a five-wicket haul in his kitty while touring Pakistan as part of the India 'A' side, Agarkar had always tried to fit into that bill, but in vain. He couldn't carry the burden of expectations. However, the ton at the Mecca of cricket in a losing cause against England proved decisive for him. It showed glimpses of his power with the willow. Add to it his usual cameos in the instant version of the game, where he holds the Indian record for the fastest fifty.

Agarkar's career has been a roller coster. He began with a bang by becoming the quickest to claim 50 wickets in Limited Overs matches. However, he couldn't do justice to his potential in the longer version of the game. A mediocre debut against Zimbabwe and then the usual rounds of ins and outs was followed by the Australian tour in 1999 which turned out to be one of the darkest periods in his career, what with him earning the sobriquet 'Bombay Duck' following a string of ducks. Still, he did reasonably with the ball by emerging the leading wicket-taker in a tour where the Indians had nothing to cherish.

It has been a while since Agarkar has been trying to become a permanent fixture in the Test matches. The performance at Adelaide will in a long way help him in his endeavour. This Mumbai lad who hails from Shivaji Park has himself expressed his willingness to contribute more with the bat so as to fit in to the bill of an all-rounder which the team is desperately craving for.

When Australia rattled up 556 in their first innings, nobody expected them to collapse like a pack of cards in the second innings. In the absence of strike bowlers Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, Agarkar rose to the occasion to become the unlikely hero in India's resurgence by claiming six wickets including the prize scalp of first innings double-centurion Ricky Ponting before he opened his account. His deadly spell that was his best in all forms of the game opened the gates for a historic win Down Under after a long gap of 22 years.

Agarkar might not have the huge frame of a fast bowler, yet he has a few tricks up his sleeve as the Aussies realised on that eventful day in Adelaide. In One-day Internationals, he has been pretty consistent (though expensive) with his reverse swing and now he has added the incisive yorker to his armoury, which is a potent weapon, especially in the death overs.

Earlier, he had tried too hard which proved disastrous as proved in the World Cup's 99 edition in the Old Blighty. Now with age and experience, he has matured and the spell in Adelaide will do a lot to his confidence. If he can do more with the bat consistently, India's clamour for an all-rounder will end soon.

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