Ajit Agarkar is hoping his brilliant century in India's second innings of the first Test against England at Lord's yesterday is the beginning of a new and better phase in his cricketing career.
Agarkar, who hit a confident unbeaten 109 for his maiden Test hundred in India's 170-run loss, said the innings will help in stopping people from discussing his unharnessed batting talent in the past.
"I hope it is the start of something better and I am able to contribute in similar fashion more regularly," Agarkar said in an interview today.
"I also hope this ends all talks of the past," he said referring to his inglorious world record sequence of no-scores against Australia.
Agarkar failed to score in five consecutive innings against Australia in the 2000-01 series Down Under, getting out off the first ball on four of those occasions. When Australia came on a return tour to India last year, he added two more noughts.
That earned him the dubious title of 'Bombay Duck' and severely dented his claims for being an all-rounder.
But his knock yesterday was good enough to put an end to all doubts whether he can bat as he almost doubled his career aggregate Test runs of 125 before this match.
What was remarkable about Agarkar's innings was the ease and confidence with which he batted. An analysis of his innings by Wisden later showed that as much as 77 per cent of his shots went exactly where they were intended to be hit.
That was the highest percentage of sure play by any batsman in this Test including the three centurions for England - Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and John Crawley - and Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman.
Indeed, so supremely confident was Agarkar of himself that he had also started entertaining hopes of batting through the day as long as Laxman was with him at the crease.
"Probably, if Laxman had stayed put and we had gone to lunch without losing any further wicket, we could have drawn the game," Agarkar said.
It is a tall assertion by any means but looking at the way in which he batted yesterday, it is very difficult not to believe the wiry Mumbai all-rounder.
Agarkar and Laxman put on 126 runs for the seventh wicket after India had collapsed to 170 for six while chasing a mammoth total of 567. But Laxman, who made a sparkling 74, was dismissed when he drove uppishly to be caught at point.
Rueing that dismissal, Agarkar said had Laxman been around anything was possible. "You could see their bowlers were tired and they had difficulty in getting out even the tailenders of our team," he said.
And to stress the point that his teammates also believed in his ability to bat, Agarkar said at no stage during the partnership did Laxman try to shield him from the bowlers.
"When you have to last out the 120 overs of the innings, these things are farthest from your mind," Agarkar said.
"Initally I was only content with giving him the strike and hanging around which might have given the impression he was shielding me.
"But there was no conscious effort from Laxman or me to see that he takes the most of the strike. We never spoke about it nor discussed it during the innings." Agarkar also gave full credit to Ashish Nehra who hung in long enough to enable him to reach his century. When Nehra came in to bat, Agarkar was batting on 67 and a century hardly looked possible.
Agarkar said he never let negative thoughts cross his mind. "I knew he could bat a bit. I remember a match between Bombay and Delhi where Nehra batted the whole day. He was only out in the final over of the day. Otherwise Delhi would have drawn that game."
Agarkar's knock has come in for fulsome praise from all circles for his technique and application. Sunil Gavaskar noted in his column that the difference in Agarkar's innings yesterday was that he never played across the line and there were no flourishes over the top of mid-wicket which has caused his downfall on more than one occassion.
"Yes, I was conscious not to hit in the air. I was more content playing straight and not hitting across the line," Agarkar said.
Obviously delighted to get his maiden Test hundred, Agarkar did not attach too much significance to the fact that it had come at Lord's.
"A Test hundred is a Test hundred and that alone is special enough. It is a special feeling and it can only be bettered if probably I do it in front of my home crowd in Bombay," he said.
"It is not easy to get even a half century in Test cricket and going past hundred is very special," said Agarkar whose previous best score in Test cricket was 41 against South Africa in Mumbai two years ago.
"That's why I hope it turns out to be the start of a new and better phase," he said.
Agarkar said if he was able to contribute similarly in a regular fashion it would give a tremendous boost the top order batsmen too.
"It is great for the team and good for the batsmen at the top if the lower half starts contributing regularly," he said.
While admitting that he had bowled badly in the first innings, Agarkar brushed aside suggestions that his below-par bowling performance had made him more determined to do well with the bat.
"Playing Test cricket is motivation enough and you don't need any extra reason to perform well at this level. In any case you are trying to do your best all the time," he said.
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