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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