Virat Kohli has highlighted the “character” of Mayank Agarwal as a factor that “stood out” for him during India’s tour of Australia in 2018-19, where Agarwal made his Test debut. In Part 2 of a chat with Agarwal on bcci.tv, Kohli explained what impressed him the most about the opener.
The visitors had dropped Shikhar Dhawan for the Test series and then lost Prithvi Shaw to injury in a warm-up match, leaving them with only Murali Vijay and KL Rahul as experienced names in the line-up.
But after both openers failed to deliver in the Adelaide as well the Perth Tests, India switched to a completely new opening pair for the third Test in Melbourne. Despite the series being tied at 1-1, Kohli believed Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari – who started his career batting at No. 6 and had never opened before – were up for the challenge of facing the new ball in Australia.
On getting someone new and inexperienced into the side midway into a series – like Kohli did with Agarwal in Australia then – he stressed that one’s approach to the game mattered the most. “I had seen you play for RCB [in the IPL]. I knew even then you played international bowlers with absolute conviction and would take them on. You were performing well in first-class for a while and in a dominating way [as well],” Kohli said.
He stated that Agarwal being positive and going about things in the right manner also worked in his favour, especially “when there was a requirement”. “That is something that always stood out with you and when you had scored so many runs, it was a no-brainer for you to come in when there was a requirement. But it was your character that stood out the most for me than the number of runs you had scored because I knew you’d be fearless and play without a baggage and thinking what might happen,” Kohli mentioned.
On Vihari, Kohli was quick to point out how he immediately took up the opener’s slot despite starting out in the middle-order.
“We had seen the way Vihari played – he would come towards the ball, he was brave and he was sure of himself – and in the first opportunity that we presented to him to open the innings, he said, ‘I’m going to do it’. That is what matters to me the most. A guy who wants to get into the tough situations will come out either holding his head high or learning.”
Eventually, India won the Melbourne Test by 137 runs to take a 2-1 lead and following a draw in the next match in Sydney, became the first Asian side to win a Test series in Australia.
On being asked by Agarwal as to what routine he followed before getting ready to face every ball, Kohli responded that that he tried analysing “everything about the bowler”. “If he bowled a certain delivery, then was there a difference in his body language? Did he do something different in his run up and his wrists? Was the arm speed different or was he holding the ball [in] a different way?”
He described it as an “amazing feeling” when he hit the bowler after perfectly judging his methods. “[If] I’ve seen the ball position and I know where the ball is going to come, that’s the most amazing feeling as the bowler actually bowls there [where you want him to] – then you just smash it and it’s an unbelievable feeling. But for that, you need to be ready and at peace with yourself so that the fear [of getting out] goes away.”