The five-Test series between India and England which starts in early August will give Mayank Agarwal a chance to re-affirm his position at the top of the order for India after being left out of the side post one poor series in Australia in 2020-21. Agarwal has a fine record for India and with Shubman Gill out of the series with a serious shin injury it is a big opportunity for the right-hander to consolidate his position along with Rohit Sharma as the country’s favoured Test opening pair.
Agarwal has a splendid record for India in Test cricket. In fact, he is unlucky to be sitting out of the XI with the numbers he mustered at the beginning of his career. He has an aggregate of 1052 runs in 14 Tests (23 innings) at an average of 45.73 with three hundreds and 4 fifties. His batting average places him at number 4 on an all-time list of India openers just behind Rohit Sharma, Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag and ahead of stalwarts like Ravi Shastri, Gautam Gambhir and Navjot Sidhu amongst others. Still early days but Agarwal has definitely made a big impact at the start of his career in the game’s premier format.
He made a great debut for India in the crucial MCG Test in 2018 Down Under scoring 76 in the first innings against a world class bowling unit comprising Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon. He also top-scored for India in the second innings and scored a significant 42 even as all the others around him – the entire top and middle order collapsed. If not for Agarwal’s knock, India were in danger of being bowled out for less than 60 and then the momentum could have swung towards Australia. India won the match and took a 2-1 lead in the series.
Agarwal continued to impress and recorded a quickfire 77 off just 112 deliveries in the first innings of the fourth and last Test at the SCG. He did not let the early exit of KL Rahul bog him down and took the attack to the Australian pacers adding a hundred-plus partnership for the second wicket with Cheteshwar Pujara. He gave India the platform and the momentum to put up a massive score and bat Australia out of the match and thereby seal a historic maiden series win Down Under.
Agarwal again weathered the storm in the first innings of the second Test at Kingston, Jamaica and contributed with a patient 55 paving the way for a big Indian total. Very early in his career the Bengaluru-born batsman had displayed an excellent temperament and showed flexibility in adjusting and adapting to the conditions and the situation of the match. He could get the boundaries and score at a fast clip as he showcased against Australia in Sydney but when needed could also drop anchor, leave a number of deliveries and get his defensive-A game to the fore as he displayed in Jamaica.
He registered a magnificent double ton against South Africa in Visakhapatnam and followed that up with another century against the same opposition in Pune. There was no stopping Agarwal in 2019 as he hammered another double – this time against Bangladesh in Indore in November.
However, his numbers have taken a big hit and dropped significantly since the Day and Night Test against Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Since then Agarwal has scored just 194 runs in 6 matches (11 innings) at an average of 17.63 with just one half-century. He gave a good account of himself in the series opener against New Zealand in Wellington but failed in both the innings at Christchurch.
Agarwal had a torrid time in Australia in 2020-21 failing in 5 of the 6 innings he batted in the series. After four failures in Adelaide and Melbourne which included three single-digit scores, he was dropped from the Sydney Test and only drafted in as a middle-order batsman for the series finale at The Gabba.
The rise of Shubman Gill during the Australia series meant that Agarwal had now moved to third position in the pecking order for openers for India. However, things have again changed dramatically and with Gill in poor form in the series against England (119 runs in 4 Tests at an average of 19.83 with one fifty) and his subsequent shin injury mean that Agarwal has another opportunity to prove his mettle at the top of the order for India.
Agarwal did not have a great outing for India A against England Lions at Worcester in an unofficial Test in 2018 scoring just 0 and 1 from number three and four. But that was three years ago before he made his Test debut. Agarwal would know that the series against England gives him a massive opportunity to pair up with Rohit Sharma and become the first-choice opening pair for India. The conditions in England will be challenging especially against a swinging Dukes cherry but Agarwal has the game and the temperament to succeed. He worked on his technique on the tour to New Zealand in 2020 and scored a fine 81 on a green top in a practice match at Hamilton before getting some runs at the Basin Reserve – that is the closest he will get in terms of conditions and pitches to England.
Five matches which potentially means 10 innings is a long enough period for Agarwal to impress at the top of the order for India. If he succeeds in the Old Blighty, he would have just given his Test career a massive boost and will be there to stay.