Ajit Agarkar: The Unsung Hero

You ask any kid from the 90’s about the Indian cricket team of then, they’d explain you the batting magic of the Fab-4, the powerful shots of Viru, the wicket-taking ability of Kumble and Bhajji and relentless hard-work put in by Srinath, Zaheer and Nehra. And almost every time, one name remains unheard, Ajit Agarkar. He wasn’t a bad cricketer by any means, but the fact that he shared the stage with these iconic names was the reason he never got the respect he deserved.

Agarkar started off as a batsman, a very explosive one, like Sehwag. But as he was not very consistent, his coach Ramakant Achrekar told him to pick the ball too. So, he developed as a batsman who could bowl a little. His first taste of success was scoring a triple century at the age of 15, and then even in the Harris Shield U-19, he scored runs consistently. But looking at the fact that there were enough batsmen as well as bowlers in Bombay team, he decided to become an all-rounder.

Some impressive performances in domestic games ensured his debut in 1998 against Australia. And his first match didn’t go well. Despite India winning that match, Agarkar was criticised for giving away too many runs, critics felt that he was not ready for the big league. His first good performance came a week later when he picked 4 wickets, again against Australia. A few matches later, his ‘Man of the Match’ performance against New Zealand silenced all the critics.

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He seemed fit for the white jersey too, and he was called in the Test team the same year. But this time, he didn’t match the expectations put on him. He didn’t perform with the bat or the ball and was immediately axed. On the other end, he was making quick strides in ODIs. He had already become the fastest bowler to pick 50 wickets, achieving this feat in just 23 ODIs. At this point, he was deemed a worthy successor to Javagal Srinath. Some went ahead and said that he also had the talent to fill the impossibly big shoes of Kapil Dev, become a wicket-taker and also a decent batsman. At this same time, he was being harshly criticised for his economy rates.

Agarkar was quick with the ball, and the had the ability to swing the ball both ways. He was learning well under Srinath, when two other youngsters made their way into the Indian team. Zaheer and Nehra were a major competition to Agarkar’s spot. At the same time, Agarkar’s economy rates and his frequency of injuries pushed Zaheer ahead of him.

He had to do something Zaheer couldn’t to fix his spot in the team. So, the coach, John Wright promoted him as a pinch-hitter and sent him in situations where Indian needed quick runs. And this was his peak as a batsman in ODIs, he scored 67 runs in 25 balls which included India’s fastest 50, 40 runs in just 19 balls, a 36 in 24 and also a 95 in 102 when he was promoted to bat one down. He also became the quickest in terms of fewest matches played to take 200 wickets and complete 1000 runs.

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Ajit Agarkar scored many runs for India as a pinch-hitter.

But these batting performances came at the expense of his bowling. The number of wickets he took became lesser and the inconsistency in his batting was being pointed out. This is when an unexpected call in Tests came his way. Playing in Tests after a long time, he scored a famous century in Lords. But again, with not much to show in his bowling, he was dropped.

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Agarkar during his famous century at Lords

The rise of Irfan Pathan, a much more consistent all-rounder hampered his chances further in Tests and reduced the games offered to him in ODIs. Although he was picked in the Indian World Cup team of 2003, he did not get to play any games. Despite mediocre performances after this, he was selected for India’s 2007 World Cup team. India unable to do much in this World Cup, damaged his career badly. He only played a few matches after the World Cup and was never recalled to the team.

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The rise of players like Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan hampered Agarkar’s selection in the team.

Even his IPL campaign was average as he didn’t do much. He captained the Mumbai Ranji team to its 40th title in 2013. While he didn’t do much in the first half of the tournament, in the second half, he was at his best with the ball and the bat including a knock of 145 runs.

It is unfortunate that Agarkar played only 28 Tests, but he has played 191 ODIs and picked 288 wickets and scored 3 half-centuries too. Many say that, he would have been a great all-rounder in today’s T20 age given his ability to swing the ball and score quickly. But as a player, he’s never gotten his due. In my opinion, he is one of India’s best pace-bowling all-rounders.

Credits:-

Featured Image: Bollywood Hungama / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

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