When Charu Sharma, the auctioneer, held up a red rectangular card with Mayank Agarwal’s name on it during the Karnataka Premier League 2017 auction on Sunday (August 6), the paddle from the Ballari Tuskers corner went up immediately.
Soon, Agarwal’s price soared as almost all the teams joined the fray. The Rs 6-lakh barrier was breached when Bengaluru Blasters threw their hat in the ring and got into a face-off with Hubli Tigers, and ultimately, Hubli bagged Agarwal for Rs 7 lakh – a massive leap from his base price of Rs 50,000 – making him the most expensive buy after Amit Verma (Ballari Tuskers) and K Gowtham (Belagavi Panthers), who were both roped in for Rs 7.2 lakh each.
And for good reason too, as a bit of number crunching from Agarwal’s five seasons prove.
Starting his KPL journey with the now defunct Shamanur Davangere Diamonds in 2009, Agarwal averaged 16.83 in the first season, but he topped the batting charts next season with 297 runs in eight matches, including his 61-ball 100 against Belagavi. The average increased to 37.12 while the strike rate was 138.78.
After a three-year hiatus, the KPL was back in 2014. This time, he turned out for Bellary Tuskers, as the franchise was earlier known, and had considerable success averaging 27.83 with a strike rate of 135.77. He followed it up with a scintillating season for Belagavi next year, where he also slammed his second century in the tournament off just 58 balls against Hubli.
“With Mayank, it’s all about credibility. In the shorter format, if he plays till the 16th or 17th over, he will easily get a hundred. And he’s the only player to get three hundreds in the KPL in three editions. The same goes for the upcoming Ranji Trophy as well. He knows his game and he’s capable to getting big numbers. It’s only a matter of time once he starts getting those runs coming.” – J Arun Kumar
But the best was yet to come. Agarwal topped the run charts again in last year’s edition with 414 runs from eight matches and blitzed his way to a third century – an unbeaten 51-ball 119 against Mangalore United. He ended the season with an average of 103.50 and a massive strike rate of 172.50.
Currently, Agarwal’s KPL career stats are as impressive as they can get: 1154 runs from 34 games at an average of 44.05 and a strike rate of 138.05. No surprise then that the 26-year-old garnered so much attention during the auction.
On Sunday, while the bidding war was on, Agarwal was away from it all, representing Karnataka State Cricket Association XI in the Dr K Thimmappiah Memorial Tournament. He was happy with the news when he found out later, of course.
“The idea is to contribute in whatever way you can and help the team win,” Agarwal told Wisden India. “I didn’t know until I read the news. To be a part of a successful team like Hubli is quite pleasing and I am looking forward to it.
“But ultimately, I just want to better myself. The money and the attention are there, but it won’t mean anything if I don’t perform.”
And perform he should, for another crucial season lies ahead. Despite making a mark in his early days, Agarwal is yet to take the bigger step and has often been criticised for throwing away his wicket. He has been around in the Indian Premier League since 2011 but has only three half-centuries from 53 matches. Agarwal made his first-class debut in 2013 but the presence of KL Rahul and Robin Uthappa, coupled with his own inability to build on starts, led to him being left out often during Karnataka’s treble-winning run in 2014 and 2015.
Things could be better for Agarwal this season. With a couple of Karnataka stars likely to be on national duty and Uthappa moving out of the state, Agarwal should be one of the lynchpins for Karnataka this season.
“With Mayank, it’s all about credibility,” said J Arun Kumar, the former Karnataka coach. “In the shorter format, if he plays till the 16th or 17th over, he will easily get a hundred. And he’s the only player to get three hundreds in the KPL in three editions. The same goes for the upcoming Ranji Trophy as well. He knows his game and he’s capable to getting big numbers. It’s only a matter of time once he starts getting those runs coming.”
Agarwal would be keen to use the KPL as a springboard to bigger things, but those pressures and the weight of the expectations won’t make him change his natural game, he says. “The IPL experience has definitely helped. It was a great opportunity to rub shoulders with the world’s best and has given me a better outlook on how to play my game.
“I have always batted this way and it has worked for me. It’s about one match at a time and I want to perform well this time as well.”
For company in the Hubli camp, Agarwal will have with him his Ranji Trophy team-mates R Vinay Kumar and Abhishek Reddy. Agarwal is also looking forward to sharing his IPL experiences with the rest of the squad. “It’s always good to share experiences, the ones playing for the first time too will have a better understanding of the game, the situations and the way it unfolds,” he said.
Hubli made it to the final twice, in 2015 and 2016, but ended on the losing side both times. This time around, though, Agarwal is hopeful that they can change the fortunes, and the team must be hoping Agarwal helps them do that.