Mayank Agarwal hits the reset button to focus firmly on Karnataka
New captain says India selection will take care of itself if he can score loads of Ranji Trophy runs like he did in 2017-18
Mayank Agarwal isn't focusing as much on a Test comeback as he is on emulating the kind of Ranji Trophy season he had in 2017-18, when he topped the charts with 1160 runs in 13 innings.
Agarwal isn't part of India's Test tour of Bangladesh, having endured a slump in form over the past six months. This has coincided with Shubman Gill and Abhimanyu Easwaran doing everything they can to impress the selectors. Added to that is the fact that he's also been released by his IPL franchise, Punjab Kings, whom he captained earlier this year.
It's in the midst of all this that Agarwal has been handed Karnataka's captaincy. The team reached the knockouts of both T20 and 50-overs competition. Now, he's set to lead them in the Ranji Trophy, replacing his contemporary Manish Pandey, who was removed from the top job following a mediocre 2021-22 first-class season where Karnataka lost out in the quarter-finals.
"I've been working on emulating what I did in 2017-18, when I had that good season," Agarwal said in Bengaluru, ahead of Karnataka's Ranji opener against Services on Tuesday. "I've gone back a little bit, looked at those videos, gone through those game plans and worked around that.
"For me, that result or the end goal [India selection] will take care of itself. I want to look at my processes, areas I need to improve on and what I need to do to keep performing the way I was doing. And I back myself to deliver those performances."
Agarwal has a strong batting line-up to lean on, with all of R Samarth, Devdutt Padikkal and Pandey in the mix. The only notable absentee is Karun Nair, who has fallen out of favour with the selectors following a bad run of form that stretches back three seasons. However, there were times during the last campaign that he seemed to be rediscovering his touch again.
The selectors have rewarded 22-year old Nikin Jose for his Vijay Hazare Trophy form - he was Karnataka's leading run-getter, and Vishal Onat, who has had a stellar run in age-group cricket. One of them could well be handed a debut cap on Tuesday.
As he takes over a young team in a transition, Agarwal is mindful of creating an environment similar to the one in 2013-14, when he broke through to make his first-class debut after years of being pigeon-holed as a white-ball player.
"We have to keep encouraging them, create a good environment for them to flourish," Agarwal said. "They're in the team because of the performances they have put in age-group cricket. Nikin did very well in the Vijay Hazare as well. We want him to continue that form. As a team, we want to have an atmosphere where they can come, learn, execute and flourish, put up match-winning performances for Karnataka and play for the country.
"I want to encourage them [youngsters], because they've put in performances. They're skilled, they have the temperament and talent. We want to back them and help them learn. The environment we want to create in the team is one of wanting to win trophies, and we're hungry for it.
"The more we win and the more we enjoy each other's success, that will come. Each of us has to be part of this environment, it's not about one or two players coming in and creating that. If 20-25 of us create that, it will all stack up together. And when things stack up, results will take care of itself."
Karnataka last won the Ranji Trophy in 2014-15 and have stumbled in the knockouts for three seasons in a row. In 2018-19 and 2019-20, they lost in the semi-finals, to Saurashtra and Bengal respectively. Last season, they were upset in the quarter-final by Uttar Pradesh. Agarwal doesn't want the team to be weighed down the baggage of being nearly men.
"We've spoken of the legacy [of Karnataka cricket] and realised if we keep thinking off winning, winning, winning all the time, it's not going to happen. That said, we've spoken of how hungry we are, but we also have to make a plan and be adaptable. Be disciplined. If we can do that, with the skillsets we have, the results will take care of itself. We are determined to win, there are no two ways about it. We want to win trophies for Karnataka."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo