The importance of being earnest

Rajesh Kumar

July 31, 2002

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Ajit Bhalchandra Agarkar did not gift the world a new batting philosophy with his memorable hundred at Lord's on Monday. He only reiterated the importance of being earnest, a virtue last stated with witty originality by the peerless Oscar Wilde.

Ajit Agarkar's Wagon Wheel
Ajit Agarkar against all bowlers - India 2nd innings at Lord's
© CricInfo
The 24-year-old talented Mumbaikar chose his moment well. His supreme cricketing achievement after all came on a day when the reputation of India's most famous dream factory - Mumbai's own Bollywood - took another beating after transcripts of taped conversations revealed fresh evidence of its connections with the underworld. On the field at Lord's, meanwhile, India were at the receiving end of what was threatening to turn into a demoralising thrashing.

But far from showing any signs of agitation in the midst of this turbulence, an earnest Agarkar, showing unstinting commitment, kept his head for once and let the strokes flow. After arriving at the batting crease on the fourth evening, he made a cautious start, scoring only six runs off his first 35 balls. But the return of new boy Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff to the bowling crease found Agarkar changing gears, one searing cut shot and a series of copybook drives taking him to within earshot of senior partner VVS Laxman.

From then on, these were to be his favourite shots. Taking a distinct liking to the English bowlers and their short-of-a-length deliveries, he scored as many as 38 runs in the region between point and third man. Jones was the main culprit as far as England were concerned, conceding as many as 15 of these runs. Drives and pick-up shots between mid-off and mid-wicket for their part yielded 42 runs, speaking eloquently about Agarkar's willingness to hit the ball - often over the infield - when it was up to be hit.

As much as his wagon-wheel speaks about his strokes, it also speaks about where England erred in their bowling on Monday. On a belter of a batting wicket that actually got flatter as the game progressed, bowling short of a length on the fifth day was simply begging to be hit. The bounce was even and true, and Agarkar, with his quick eye, could do no wrong under such circumstances.

England erred in line as well. Many of the deliveries bowled to Agarkar were not only short but also outside the off-stump, giving the batsman room to free his arms and play his strokes. Bowling closer to the batsman's body may have seen an intended cut fly to slip or chop the ball onto the stumps, but it was not to be, and the English attack was accordingly flayed.

The shots were all played with lovely timing and considerable elan - facets of Agarkar's batting that came to the fore in his famous 21- ball 50 against Zimbabwe at Rajkot in December 2000. But sadly before Sunday, this was all lost upon a Test arena that only knew him as a batsman with a famous penchant for ducks. His invigorating hundred at starchy Lord's was timely penitence for the gross injustice that he had done to his undoubted batting talents on the big stage until now.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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