In the winter of 2017, a then 26-year-old Mayank Agarwal had what many believe is the greatest domestic season by an Indian ever, scoring over 2000 runs across the three premier domestic competitions. But what if Karnataka had decided to drop the opener after his pair against Hyderabad?
We know that Mayank, in Karnataka’s third match of the season, scored an immaculate triple-century against Maharashtra, a knock that eventually propelled him to the greatest of heights and enabled him to score over 1000 runs in the month of November. We also know that he followed up the 304* with scores of 176, 133*, 173 and 104* in four of his next six innings and made the selectors take note. However, what made his historic run possible in the first place was the trust shown on him by the Karnataka team management, who decided to give the right-hander one more match - the one against Maharashtra - after contemplating dropping him after his horrific start to the season, where he registered scores of 31, 0 and 0. What if Mayank Agarwal had been dropped after his pair against Hyderabad?
It’s a bright sunny day at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune, but just five minutes before the toss, a vast majority of cricketers in the away dressing room are in shock as they have just been told that 23-year-old Dega Nischal was going to make his first-class debut and take Mayank Agarwal’s place in the starting XI. Karnataka restrict the home team to a modest 245 on a good batting wicket, but in response, they get off to the worst start possible, as the debutant Nischal is dismissed on the very first ball by a rampant Samad Fallah. A century from Karun Nair isn’t enough for the away side to take the first-innings lead, but a valiant 60* on the final day by Nischal ensures that they escape defeat.
Nischal’s gritty knock in the second innings means that Agarwal continues to warm the bench, and soon the 23-year-old right-hander forms a formidable partnership at the top with Ravikumar Samarth. The duo post 100-run partnerships in each of their next three games against Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Railways, and Nischal ends up scoring a double ton in the quarter-final against Mumbai to propel Karnataka into the semis. However, an untimely and unexpected failure from both the openers in the semis against Vidarbha -- scoring a total of 8 runs between them in the match - means that the CM Gautam-led side’s run ends in the semis.
Impressed by the Samarth-Nischal partnership, the management continue to bench Agarwal in both the limited-over competitions - Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. This has dire consequences for Agarwal who, after going unsold in the IPL Mega Auction in 2017, decides to instead represent the Mysuru Warriors in the KPL in 2018. The 27-year-old instantly makes KPL his forte and forms a formidable partnership of his own, with the explosive Arjun Hoysala. The left-hand right-hand combination of Hoysala and Agarwal prove too much for the amateurs in the league and the duo, having scored over 400 runs each in the season, propel Mysuru Warriors to their second KPL title. But lifting the KPL title is all the rejoice Agarwal could experience as Karnataka continue to overlook him for the 2018/19 domestic season, rewarding Samarth and Nischal for their remarkable run in the previous season.
Fast forward a couple of months, it’s December 20, 2018, and India have remarkably decided to fly in and draft Faiz Fazal into the Boxing Day Test against Australia at the MCG, after hideous performances from KL Rahul and Vijay in the first two Tests. Fazal, the highest run-getter of the 2017/18 Ranji season, is thrown into the mix right away, made to open alongside Hanuma Vihari, but much in contrast to his ODI debut - where he scored an unbeaten fifty - the left-hander lasts only 5 balls, before nicking one to Tim Paine off the bowling of Mitchell Starc.
The Vidarbha skipper’s dismissal opens the floodgates and the Aussies pounce on the opportunity, taking full advantage of the momentum they gathered after the Perth win, to bundle India out cheaply in the first innings. India have a chance to strike early, but butter fingers from Fazal at first slip gives Aaron Finch a life, and the big man says ‘thank you very much’ to score a mammoth 195, make India pay for their mistake and help Australia win the match and go 2-1 up in the series. Fazal scores a fighting fifty in the final Test in Sydney, but a rained off encounter sees his inning cut short and dashes India’s hopes of winning their first ever Test series in Australia.
Finch’s 195 at the MCG is enough for him to seal a spot in the Ashes squad, but a pair in the intra-squad warm-up match prior to the Edgbaston Test means that it's Cameron Bancroft who ventures out to open alongside Warner in the first Test. Australia convincingly win the first Test thanks to a Steve Smith special, but him floored by a Jofra Archer bouncer leaves them in a state of shock and instantly kills off the momentum they had generated. Justin Langer decides that it's Finch’s time to shine and he sends the Victorian out in the second innings as Smith’s concussion substitute. But the woes of 2018 come back to haunt Finch as he’s trapped in front of the stumps on the very first ball of Chris Woakes. Finch’s untimely dismissal results in a landslide for the Aussies, who lose 10 wickets in the final session of Day 5 to succumb to an embarrassing defeat.
England ride on the Lord’s high to dismantle a Steve Smith-less Australia at Headingley and, despite losing the fourth Test at Old Trafford, they out-muscle their arch rivals in the final Test at The Oval to win the series 3-2 and regain the Urn. The day is September 17, 2019 and the duo of Tim Paine and Justin Langer call for an impromptu press conference to make a shocking announcement that on the back of the Ashe debacle, they are stepping down as the captain and coach of the Australian side, respectively. After multiple meetings over the course of the next week, Cricket Australia announce that Travis Head would be taking the reins over in the whites.
Back to India and a week before the first Test against South Africa in Vizag, it is learned that Rohit Sharma, who was slated to open in the series, dislocated his shoulder in training. As the media anxiously waited to see who the replacement would be, chairman of selectors MSK Prasad drops the ultimate bombshell, announcing that Wasim Jaffer, who last represented India in a Test against South Africa in 2008, will be donning the whites once again come October 2 at the Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium in Visakhapatnam.
It’s October 2, 2019, and it’s the Vidarbha pair of Wasim Jaffer and Faiz Fazal who open the batting for India, cheered by some of their teammates from the stands. Also cheering Jaffer, Fazal and India on from his home in Bengaluru is Mayank Agarwal, who has little idea that in two months time, he is going to be purchased by the Royal Challengers Bangalore for a sum of Rs 10 crore, the highest of any player in the IPL 2020 auction.