|Player:||AB Agarkar, J Srinath, BKV Prasad, Z Khan, A Nehra, IK Pathan, L Balaji, Kapil Dev, RS Dravid, VVS Laxman|
He has seen it all and heard it all. He has been around since Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad were Indias opening bowlers. And he has seen himself superseded by the likes of Zaheer Khan, Aashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathi Balaji as Indias pace spearhead. "The most exciting discovery in Indian cricket since Kapil Dev" is something that he is familiar with but then he has also heard the refrain "the greatest enigma of Indian cricket."
Ajit Balchandra Agarkar has been around now at the international level for almost ten years. He has scored a Test hundred at Lords a feat that has been beyond many greats in Indian cricket. He has won a Test match for the country with his bowling. Yes, Adelaide 2003 perhaps is better remembered for Rahul Dravids great double of 233 and 72 not out and his 303-run partnership with VVS Laxman that brought India back into the game. But the match could not have swung irrevocably in Indias favour but for Agarkars six for 41 on the fourth day. Oh yes, he has also got seven ducks in a row in Tests against Australia. Indeed his Test figures - 571 runs at 16.79 and 58 wickets at 47.32 apiece from 26 matches sum up the puzzling nature of his career.
There is no doubt that Agarkar has not been able to make the transition to Test cricket. But his ubiquitous qualities have marked him out as a potential match winner in the shorter version of the game. Certainly there are no doubts as to his claim to permanence in the limited overs squad. And yet even here he has been in and out of the team. Hence the term "the greatest enigma of Indian cricket."
"He has been given too long a rope" is another thing that has been heard quite often about Agarkar. But has he really? Ups and downs are there for any cricketer and even the best of players have had lapses in form. Agarkar is no exception. There are times when the Indian cricket follower is left tearing his hair in frustration as Agarkar is creamed for fours and sixes in an over and in a tight situation. His batting has not exactly matched his early exploits notably his feat of scoring a half-century off 21 balls against Zimbabwe in 2000. On the other hand he has come off with bat and ball when least expected. One has to be careful writing him off for just at that moment he is capable of pulling off a sterling performance with bat or ball if not both! Certainly his ODI figures underline the Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde character of Agarkar. A strike rate of 82 is impressive but not an average of 15 or just three half centuries. In bowling an average of 27.4 is acceptable as also a strike rate of 32.5 but then his economy rate of just over five is rather disturbing.
At any rate like wine he seems to be getting better with age. His performances over the last year or so have seen him cement his place in the one day squad once and for all. Whats more he seems to be enjoying his role of elder statesman. All the others in the pace attack are so much junior to him and when a player is able to rise to new responsibilities he has to be respected. It is now accepted that he is a utility man expected to open the bowling and come back in the slog overs to try and stem the expected flow of runs. Any decent scores from him late in the order have now to be regarded as a bonus. That he can still wield the willow to good effect however has been seen more than once recently and this augurs well for the team. Still it is his bowling that attracts considerably more attention. From his willowy frame he is able to extract deceptive pace and disconcerting bounce thanks to a whippy delivery that stems from strong shoulders. And of course now and then he is able to bring off the kind of dream delivery that cleaned up Chris Gayle in the ODI series against West Indies last month.
As he prepares to play in his third World Cup Agarkar in his 30th year is no more the exciting talent who burst upon the scene nearly a decade ago. He has matured as cricketer, the rough edges have been smoothened out and he has thrived on responsibility. His best could still be ahead perhaps even in the World Cup.
(Article: Copyright © 2007 CricketArchive)