Failure to pull in his weight as a batsman could cost Agarkar dear
There is mounting criticism that Ajit Agarkar is playing past the ‘Expiry Date’. Nasser Hussain, the former England captain, opined in his syndicated column: “The team management would probably love to play all their bowlers and all their batsmen, and because the team has no all-rounder, it turns to a bowler long past his sell-by-date like Ajit Agarkar. I saw clear signs on Friday that he no longer likes being out there, and that is always a time to go.” Very strong words.
Hussain was not the only Englishman who questioned the Indian’s selection. Geoff Boycott wrote in his column that Agarkar looked “painfully ordinary” and that “his selection remains a mystery”.
Agarkar’s performance, in the two One-Day Internationals he played against England in the tour that just ended, were unquestionably horrendous. He went for 65 runs without taking a wicket in the first ODI at Southampton. Worse was to follow when he conceded 67 runs in nine overs in the second ODI at Bristol - yet again going without a wicket.
But does that mean it’s the end of the road for Agarkar? The numbers in the immediate past also do not support his case. In 24 ODIs in 2006, he could not get even a single three-wicket haul and his strike-for the calendar year was 36.55. His strike rate in the 14 ODIs that he has played 2007 is even worse - 43.00, which is considerably higher than his career strike rate of 33.22.
It’s not going to be easy for Agarkar. Zaheer Khan is going places with Michael Vaughan sticking his neck out to rate his ability to swing the ball more than even the great Wasim Akram and Chaminda Vaas. RP Singh has made rapid advances while a fit Munaf would be a certainty in the side. Then there is the combative Sreesanth. And waiting in the sidelines are several youngsters for their breaks, Agarkar – never a certainty – may well have put the noose around his neck. Whether the selectors tighten that noose to signal his end as an international cricketer or give him clemency to redeem himself remains to be seen.
Agarkar could have made things difficult for the selectors by showing a better attitude towards his batting ability. But he has floundered big time in that aspect, too. In 2005, his batting average was a dismal 7.63 from eight ODI innings; in 2006, 6.50 from 12 outings and in 2007, 10.67 from six innings. It’s not the kind of figures one expects from a player who has scored a hundred in Tests and 95 in an ODI.
"I bat at No. 9. My primary job at the moment is to bowl. If I can contribute with the bat, it's always good… I don't think I am classified as an all-rounder," he said sometime back.
When he reflects back on his career long after he has given up playing, he may well realize that it’s his failure to accept the onus as a productive lower-order batsman that could have led to an early end to his international career. This kind of flawed thinking seems to run in the Indian team with Irfan Pathan also consistently mouthing similar views about his batting. In sharp contrast, men like Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie, players with arguably lesser batting potential than Pathan and Agarkar, showed marked improvement in their approach and attitude towards batting in the fag end of their international careers and reaped handsome dividends – Gillespie, in fact, going on to score a Test double hundred.
Therein lie the sharp attitudinal divide between the Indian mindset and the Australian mindset. The likes of Pathan and Agarkar would do well to spend time with someone like Ravi Shastri - an Indian by birth and an Aussie in his thinking. He was tough and bloody-minded. And that is what catapulted him from a No 10 batsman in Tests to, arguably, the finest opener against quality pace on overseas track India since SMG. He believed in his batting potential to climb the ladder unlike Agarkar who adjusts his mindset to the number he is slotted in the batting order.
Getting a double hundred at any level is an achievement. And Agarkar once scored a triple hundred – and a very big one at that when he scored 345 in an Inter-school quarter-final. In fact, he was a pure batsman till as late as 1994 when he went for the BCCI under-16 camp under Frank Tyson. I dare say it’s his thinking that caused the mental disintegration and belief that he could bat.
There is no doubting Agarkar’s talents. He is the fastest to bag 50 wickets in ODIs – record that was held by Dennis Lillee; he has been one of the best strike bowlers in India’s ODI history; he has to his credit a 21-ball ODI half-century; he has a Test hundred at Lord’s and a match-winning 6 for 41 in Australia. But he may well go down as an under-achiever whose career is under serious threat well before he celebrates his 30th birthday.