Not many names bring awe and agony simultaneously as does Ajit Balachandra Agarkar. For almost a decade Agarkar was in and out of the Indian ODI side with occasional look in into the Test Squad. He has been an enigma to the fans of Indian Cricket for long. There has never been a cricketer with so many questions on his place in the side than him. Yet he walks back as India’s third highest wicket taker in ODIs.
His entry into the national side was spectacular. In a short span he established himself as a wicket taker per se though he was expensive. By set a record for being the fastest to take 50 wickets in ODIs and is among the fastest to get 100 scalps too. He was expensive and yet managed to get breakthroughs.
His bowling action was smooth, with a high arm action and he was decently quick enough if not fiery. By Indian standards he can still be called as a “Fast” bowler for having bowled in late 130 kmph. He had an excellent seam position and had the ability to move the ball in both ways. No wonder many his dismissals came in slips and keeper’s hands.Ajit first was noticed in the 1997 tour of Pakistan by India A when he bowled with as many as 5 slips as he demolished the Pakistan A team with his nagging line. He had a terrific 5 wicket haul and a match winning 6 wicket haul in the three tests for the A side. Immediately he was shot into reckoning and made his debut against Australia.
His journey began with the wicket of Gilchrist caught in slips in his first match and was soon on ascend as he continued taking wickets everywhere in the dream year of 1998. He became the fastest man to take 50 wickets in ODIs when he got there in 23 matches. The record stood until an equally enigmatic Ajantha Mendis took over.
However his slump began there and soon he became a pedestrian in the side. He still managed to bag wickets but went for a plenty. He could not muster enough confidence in the fans or the fraternity. While his bowling suffered due to the lack of consistency, his batting in a period was beyond awful. For a man who could bat decently Agarkar was dismissed consecutively for duck in seven innings, During the 1999-2000 tour of Australia, he managed to bag pairs in two tests and 5 ducks in 6 innings of the series. He also had a golden pair among this.
He was not a bad batsman though. He managed to score a test century in Lord’s, a record that has been elusive to the greatest Indian batsman. His also has an ability to score quick runs in the slog overs of the ODIs and has three fifties in ODIs. Among them is the fastest fifty for India in ODIs. That was a knock of 67 of just 25 balls against Zimbabwe who then had a strong side.
All this made him to be touted as a potential replacement for Kapil Dev. He had pace, he had shots, he had wickets yet he lacked the consistency. He lacked the aggression and attitude to take him there. He at best was a medium pacer who could sometimes trouble the batsmen.
Agarkar however enjoyed the backing of his skippers and was more or less a part of the ODI side for years together. He would be dropped for a match or two and will get picked up as his replacements would not be able to deliver. Neither did he do the same but he did induce some confidence with his experience in the minds of his skippers Ganguly and Dravid that had him in the side.
The season of 2005-06 was a fruitful one for Agarkar in ODIs when he was India’s best bowler. He did not set the world on fire but he did his job better than the others. Agarkar however was on a slump and was dumped from the side by 2007. Since then occasional news on him was by an odd special show in Ranji’s but he was never in reckoning.
Agarkar has always brought joy to the viewers with his uncomplicated style of bowling and some rash hitting. The sorrow has been with his ineptness to deliver when needed. Give him the ball with a target being at 6.5 rpo he could still lose you the match with his wayward bowling. Yet again he was the sam man who on his day has defended many a partly scores for the side.
Despite being criticised and despite being questioned, Agarkar still managed to bag 288 wickets in 191 matches and mind you that is not an easy task. The much accomplished bowlers like Zaheer and Srinath fare worse than Agarkar. His bowling average is second best to Kapil Dev by fractions. However he suffered in terms of economy and is always viewed as an expensive option, a fact he proved right more often than not.
Agarkar remains today a mystery in Indian Cricket. He has been out of the side by 29 years itself. By then he had his name in the annals of ODIs for India. Even worldwide he is 14th highest wicket taker and has a good enough record than many reputed bowlers. Yet he was never seen a lethal bowler by the opposition nor a go to go man by his team. Inspite of his wealth of talent, he lacked the discipline to improve his gifts and suffered. Now at 34 he looks a veteran in the Indian Domestic League and was even dumped from his state side.
He is all but gone but his aura remains. He got the fans jumping on feet with his movement just to see them get flattened when the batsmen strike his delivery with consummate ease. That has been the picture of his career, where talent failed to discipline. He still remains etched in the memory of fans for all the entertainment he brought. Despite being listed wayward, Agarkar has a record to awe with. Long Live the Agarkar – A Phenomenon in Indian Cricket.