What more does Mayank Agarwal needs to do to get an Indian gig? Obviously, it isn’t about runs anymore—if a batsman can’t get into a silly little triseries in Sri Lanka without context, whose very fortuitous existence should be used to test out the bench strength, then he has little chance of getting there in the near future. Three fifties at Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tourney at a strike rate of 144.94, over 1000 Ranji runs at 105.45—2051 runs across formats, second most by an Indian in a season. Tough luck Mayank, try scoring 2,500 runs next time. In some ways, the selection troubles go beyond Mayank’s rejection but we would come to it a little later. J Arun Kumar, former Karnataka coach and a mentor of sorts for Mayank, is absolutely flabbergasted at the non-selection. “What more do you want the poor guy to do? He has scored heavily across all formats in this season. Even during India A tours, he was consistent – he smashed two hundreds against South Africa A in 2016. His exclusion is really baffling. If you can give someone like Vijay Shankar a chance, then you might as well try out Mayank. I really hope he gets a chance in the future.”
A day ahead of selection, Prasad had hinted that the selection would come down to whether a few senior players are rested. Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni were rested, but perhaps Shikhar Dhawan had to be rested for Mayank to get in. And here is where it gets tricky. Dhawan is a contender for all the formats—only when he failed, did his Test spot go away to KL Rahul, who didn’t grab it in South Africa, and might have yielded the spot back to Dhawan. Considering Dhawan is a regular in ODIs and in T20s, couldn’t he have been rested here—surely, he wouldn’t have minded. There is no risk to his spot and this move can’t be seen as undermining his confidence, surely? Considering Kohli’s absence, Rohit Sharma needed to be play as a captain and it was Dhawan who should have made way for Mayank.
In any successful team, it does get difficult to break in, as the team management do develop a habit of maintaining the status-quo and it’s up to the selectors, the wise heads, to break that natural urge. Tournaments such as this tri-series have made the task easier for fresh faces to be tried out but if you are going to resist using it wisely, then it can come back to bite you in the future.
If anyone needed a confidence shot, it was Mayank here. His past in particular screams out for a kindly intervention. When he was spontaneously combusting in the middle with rash shots, two to three years back, he would get really down, restless and hyper-critical about himself. All that pent-up tension would escalate into more bad decisions in shotmaking, and the vicious cycle escalated. A couple of months back, Robin Uthappa, former India batsman and someone close to Mayank, had spoken about the vulnerabilities of the mind. “There was a lot of talk about him just being a limited-overs batsman, and Mayank was getting restless. He used to take failure to heart.”
In the last couple of years, Uthappa feels that Mayank has relaxed a lot since then, one of the key factors behind the rise. Be that as may, setbacks like this aren’t going to be easy to recover. “He is a highly energetic and very excitable as a character, (now) he has now learnt to calm down in the middle, have a routine of sorts, and all that has helped him mellow down, and focus better.” He has also worked a lot on his technique as Uthappa pointed out: “He worked really hard at his game. The trigger movement in particular was revamped. The front foot used to come across, and create problems for him: unstill head, and the associated problems that go with it. We used to talk about it a bit. He has a really stable base now. The way he bounced back from the bad start at Ranji (he had a pair of ducks in the first game but hit a triple ton in the next) is a tribute to his character.” He would need that bouncebackability to shrug off this rejection from the selectors.
Dhoni and T20s
Other selections aren’t too controversial but why pick both Dinesh Kartik and Rishabh Pant as wicketkeepers? India have just four matches in Sri Lanka, five if they make it to final and it would have been best to pick just one, probably Pant, and give him a full series to prove himself. A chance to succeed or fail, at this stage in the career would have been best for the youngster, and by extension the Indian team. Which takes us to Dhoni’s resting. There is no discernible reason for him to continue in India’s T20 team apart from the fact that it can give him more time with the Indian camp – and not be utterly cut-off for long periods as he doesn’t play Tests. In fact, the more they try out Pant, and any other contender in the T20s, the better for India to make a good judgement call about Dhoni’s replacement in the 50-over format. India doesn’t need Dhoni in their T20 team; CSK does, not India. The spot could be better utilised to test out contenders to his 50-over spot. Typically, it took Dhoni himself to rest and try out that scenario in this tri-series. Perhaps, Dhawan or Rohit would sit out some tournament in the future and force the hands of selectors to pick Mayank. This is not to say he would be a sure-shot success at the top but if a youngster isn’t given a chance to succeed or fail when he is at the peak of his game, how can Indian cricket grow for the better?