Agarwal's leap towards batting zen

Mayank Agarwal raises his bat after reaching a century K Sivaraman

Mayank Agarwal struck his maiden first-class triple-century, and the 50th on Indian soil, as Karnataka piled on 628 for 5 declared for a first-innings lead of 383 against Maharashtra at the MCA Stadium in Pune. Agarwal scored almost half of his team's runs, finishing with an unbeaten 304, and in doing so, became Karnataka's third first-class triple-centurion, after KL Rahul and Karun Nair.

Road to the triple

Agarwal's most recent returns before the triple were a pair against Hyderabad. His contribution to Karnataka's innings rout of Assam was a measly 31 as his team racked up 469 for 7 declared. Outings with the India A team weren't productive either, as he returned with scores of 13 and 8 in the one-dayers against New Zealand A. It was far from how he had begun the year, when he was Karnataka's highest scorer in the Inter-State T20s and the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But he was subsequently crippled by inconsistency and lost form in the IPL, where three matches yielded 26 runs for Rising Pune Supergiant.

Seizing the opportunity

That Agarwal even played this match was only due to the unavailability of KL Rahul, who was busy with the Indian T20I squad against New Zealand. Even still, his place wasn't a lock, with Kaunain Abbas being floated around as a potential replacement for Agarwal. With Rahul around, Agarwal was bound to be a non-starter, as R Samarth's excellent form makes him the primary contender for the second opener's slot. With Rahul away on national duty and Robin Uthappa having moved to Saurashtra, this was Agarwal's second chance at establishing himself, and he took the ball and ran with it.

"I would put this knock down to lot of determination," he told ESPNcricinfo. "And it's also a good feeling that even after a pair, the selectors and the team management and the captain backed me. That was extremely heartening. I knew that it wasn't going to be easy, but I think it was so much sweeter that it was harder for me."

The early storm

Though slow to start, Agarwal picked up once the new ball lost shine and the pitch eased out. The affable bounce on offer allowed him to bring out his shots, but the acceleration was brief. After a period of consolidation, he brought up his fifty off 94 balls.

"Second day, first session, I thought they bowled in really good areas and tight lines and gave nothing away," he said. "Our goal was to put a price tag on our wickets and look to bat long, and because we did that, we were able to capitalise when the bowlers began to tire.

"Our bowlers did extremely well. In Pune, there is help in the first hour or hour-and-a-half. We got five early wickets and that really helped. As the sun came out, the pitch just got better and better. And by the end of the first day, we had got a few runs."

Devouring milestones

That Agarwal grew in confidence as he batted on was manifested through the pace at which he reached his landmarks. The first hundred took the longest time coming - 207 balls. The second was a full-fledged sprint that took just 124 balls, while the third came at a more relaxed pace, in 160 balls. "I think it's just discipline," Agarwal said, reflecting on the challenge of moving from one milestone to the other. "The more you can retain focus and be disciplined in sticking to your plans and the process you have adopted, I think that's the key."

What next?

Karnataka tried four different opening combinations in 2016-17 and ended the season with a partnership average of 34.4 and highest of 111. With Samarth in imperious form, some consistency from Agarwal would make them a more potent force at the top of the order. The triple has put Agarwal at the top of Karnataka's batting charts. A finish to the season thereabouts would make for a giant stride towards making himself a more permanent feature of the side.