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October 17, 2013

So long, Ajit Agarkar

Pushkar Gupte


Ajit Agarkar is ecstatic after a wicket,  England v India, 4th ODI, Old Trafford, August 30, 2007
The story of Ajit Agarkar's career: some satisfaction, lots of regret. And Adelaide © Getty Images
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Tendulkar and now Agarkar. Men on the opposite ends of the legend scale since Agarkar is among the most frustrating Indian cricketers of recent times. A player most Indians have loved to hate. A player who will be remembered mainly for his profligacy and for his duck-scoring streak. This post is dedicated to Agarkar, to remind us of some of the glory moments he was responsible for, a post asking for him to be regarded in a kinder light than he was granted in his playing days.

Agarkar debuted in ODIs as a 20-year-old, and made an impact in his third ODI, with a four-wicket haul against Australia. He then embarked on a brilliant 20-match streak to bag the record for being the fastest to 50 wickets in ODIs. India had discovered a young wicket-taker who was extremely efficient in the field. His ability with the bat meant people believed Kapil Dev's successor had finally arrived. But the story of Agarkar's career did not flow from the five excellent balls he would bowl in every over, but from the poor sixth ball that would regularly disappear to the boundary. Despite the fact that he took 288 wickets in 191 ODIs, he attracted ridicule for the boundary balls and his economy-rate.

His batting never really lived up to potential but he had his moments. He made the fastest ODI 50 by an India batsman, a Test century at Lord's (a feat that eluded Tendulkar and Brian Lara among others), a 95 in an ODI against West Indies, and a precious few match-winning knocks at the death. However, his batting will always be classified under the 'What if' category.

However, no one can grudge Agarkar his moment of glory in Adelaide. Beating Australia on their home patch in the early 2000s was an achievement almost on par with winning a World Cup. After a Ricky Ponting 200 powered Australia to 556 in the first innings, the implicit assumption was that India would roll over. Even after Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman defied Australia for the second time in two years, the game seemed to be headed for a draw. But a tiny, frail Indian seamer, with his ears protruding sharply from his head, ran in with purpose to generate real pace and deliver the spell of his life. Agarkar's six victims in the second innings included his bunny Justin Langer, Ponting and Simon Katich. India had bowled out Australia for 196, and needed 230 to win.

This was Rahul Dravid's Test. He followed up his first-innings 233 with an unbeaten 72 in the second. While we all remember Dravid's triumphant tears when he cut the winning boundary, let us take a moment to remember the man who was at the other end - the man whose six-wicket spell made one of India's greatest Test wins possible.

Agarkar will probably look back at his career with a mixture of satisfaction and regret. Satisfaction on account of the heady highs. Regret for every boundary ball that tarnished an otherwise good over. Regret for always being evaluated as an allrounder and being pulled down even when he bowled really well. Regret for having fizzled away dramatically months after becoming the best Indian ODI bowler. Regret for being just another cricketer in spite of having picked up 288 ODI wickets. Regret for what could have been if only he had lived up to his potential.

So long Ajit and thanks for some good times. We will forever wish there could have been more from you.

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Posted by   on (October 30, 2013, 9:36 GMT)

He was a great player and I think he is a victim of the potential he possessed and therefore the expectations. I think India's best bowlers would settle for near 300 wickets in their career and people would have acknowledged them as great players. But with Agarkar, even after winning lot of matches and taking those wickets, he has been a silent performer and criticized non performer. I liked him and as everyone wished to see more of and from him. But still, to me he is still one of the best ODI bowlers I will remember.

Posted by   on (October 27, 2013, 10:16 GMT)

Agarkar truly possess enormous amount of talent and maybe he was very inconsistent. But I am still unclear with few things that in his inconsistent International career span of 9 years, * He was out of team in numerous occasions however he still managed to bag 288 wickets (the 3rd highest among Indian Bowlers after Srinath & Kumble. And Kumble being the most consistent bowler ever took 17 years and 271 matches to take 337 and Agarkar being the most inconsistent bowler ever took 9 years and just 191 matches). * His bowls were hit out of the ground in all his death overs and he mostly went wicket less in those overs however still his economy rate was less than 5.1 (less than many other quick bowlers started their career after 2005). * His batting record includes 5 consecutive first ball ducks however still he hold the record of fastest 50 from an Indian and an unbeaten Century in Lords (batting at number 8 on both occasions).

Posted by enigma77543 on (October 21, 2013, 9:28 GMT)

I was instantly hooked the moment I saw a young Indian pacer burst his way into international cricket by being the fastest EVER to reach 50 wickets in ODIs (Mendis has overtaken him since then), he had genuine pace that Indian fans longed for so long, he was a genuine swing-bowler & he did have the accuracy as he showed on occasions to be really economical as well but perhaps not the discipline to stick to it in the long run. And of course, considering his batting ability, many did think he was going to be the next Kapil Dev. But as you say, it was really a story of "what if", the story of wasted potential....if only he'd the discipline & dedication of people like Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, etc he would have gone down in history as one of the greatest allrounders in the game.....but instead it was a story of disappointments after disappointments with elusive rays of hope every now & then for those of us, like myself, who had gotten excited seeing his early successes & potential.....

Posted by UltimateUtsav on (October 21, 2013, 5:29 GMT)

I was never an Ajit Agarkar fan and probably I have never ever praised him for anything but he possessed a few qualities which you rarely see in Indian fast bowlers. First of all, he was a fast bowler out of so many medium pacers that India had. He carried on the legacy of swing bowling and bowled yorkers very often which now a days bowlers hardly bowl. He was a good fielder and a very good catcher and not to forget his pinch hitting skills. But most of all, he was a risk taken. When you say he bowled a "hit me" bowl every over actually meant that he had an heart to take risk even when he could have managed dot bowl. Also one thing noticeable about him was his patience. I hardly saw Agarkar sledging or getting frustrated. He was a cool customer which is so rare in fast bowlers. Never the less, he ends his career which I would call as a decent career.

Posted by das.sledgehammer on (October 21, 2013, 4:34 GMT)

No matter how many runs he conceded, he would always provide that crucial breakthrough in the death overs....

Posted by   on (October 20, 2013, 16:05 GMT)

Nice work, Pushkar. People forget how AA burst on to the scene in the early '90s, and how much early promise he showed. I am afraid Irfan Pathan will also go down in history books in the same manner. In some ways an even greater loss than AA.

Posted by DaisonGarvasis on (October 20, 2013, 11:55 GMT)

Ajith Agarkar used to be the player who will get selected for India, show up in Playing eleven and get beaten up by all teams. Then he gets dropped. After a few days someone in the bowling line up gets injured or gets out of form. Then out of the blue without any ground breaking performance during the time he got dropped, Agarkar makes it into the team again (much like Piyush Chawla used to do until recently). He then gets beaten up by all teams before getting dropped again. And then again, he gets picked for no reason. So for all the people saying "he deserved better", what more you want? He was given chances of other deserving youngsters. Gave a lot of promise and delivered on nothing. So please let him go his way, rest of the world move on.

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