Lot of us will be busy thinking & writing about Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement; as ideally it should be as he is the biggest Cricketing Legend of this era. Not many would have thought about Ajit Agarkar’s contribution to Indian cricket and he was known and might very well be remembered as an expensive wicket taking bowler who would gift runs at will and take a wickets in exchange.
He debuted at a time when delivering an in-swinging Yorker by an Indian Fast bowler was almost ill-mannered on the field. The way Bowlers are taken to cleaners today; his economy of 5.07 from 191 ODIs looks menacingly accurate in ODI (Stats reveal – he has better Economy than Umar Gul at 5.10 & Lasith Malinga at 5.08). He sat high standards when he arrived on the scene with fastest to 50 wickets, that he was always compared with his then contemporaries who clocked economy rates around 4. He stuck every 32nd ball to get a wicket which is a rarity for today’s bowlers specially the fast bowlers; also when the rules laid are batsmen friendly and bowlers to get hammered as per the script of shorter format of the game. In today’s era of scientifically manufactured heavy bats and shorter boundaries; fast bowler with Economy of 5.07 and average of 27.85 (just behind the Great Kapil Dev in ODI List for India) is a rarity.
It was 1997 when he made his debut and before that Indians were battered all over the world. Be it South Africa, England or Caribbean Indians could not play fast bowlers and venues in Sub-continent like Sharjah, Colombo were the places where toothless Indian Fast Bowling got hammering of its life. Fast bowling reserves were depleted and likes of Venkatesh Prasad with his leg cutters and more injured than fit Javagal Srinath were the ones who led the attack and rest of the bowling being shouldered by spinners. Among all these disappointments; Inculcation of Ajit Agarkar was fresh breeze and was aptly labeled as genuine fast bowler who bowled at 140 clicks per hour
It is the India A tour to Pakistan which brought him to selection scene while the National team struggled against Pakistan. His tally of 23 wickets and a century on India A tour earned him a call up to the National team and he made his debut against Australia at Kochi. By the looks of it; he never came across as a fast bowler. But there was more to him then what met eyes; short height, slim physic; he generated his entire pace through his shoulder and fast moving forearms and no wonder his first ball on international scene was perfect Yorker to Adam Gilchrist; which marked his arrival on international scene. He had extreme run with ball and bat; one side he collected and set World record for fastest 50 wickets in an ODI and on the other hand collected 7 Consecutive ducks and 6 of them came against Australia.
The day he made his debut; and few promising cameos with the bat later; he was tagged as Kapil Dev’s replacement; one expectation he never came on terms with especially when one is just a year or two old into the national team. He was fiery and gifted when arrived on the national scene and had the potential and talent in equal amounts whether be his bowling or batting, but load of expectation being a genuine all-rounder and continuous reference and comparison to Kapil Dev took its toll on him eventually.
To Agarkar’s Credit he amassed 58 wickets in 30 ODIs in a single Calendar year and till date no Indian bowler has managed to achieve or let alone come closer to that feat and also the same year Sachin Tendulkar was in form of his life; enabling India win 6 ODI tittles that year.
Not to forget he was part of that team which won the inaugural World T20 World Cup in South Africa back in 2007. For me Agarkar has always been the tryer for India and his ODI bowling stats do speak a lot about itself. He was the dream come true of every Indian who always wished that Indian bowlers delivered Fiery In-swinging Yorkers at will which likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram could do if woken up in the middle of night.
Side like Mumbai will remember him fondly for his contribution with his five-wicket haul in the exhilarating Ranji finals in Mysore and Karnatka fell short by 7 runs to lose out on Finals, he also led Mumbai to 2012-13 Ranji Tittle win. He was the fastest Indian to reach 200 wickets from 133 caps and since six years he last played for India; only Bret Lee and Shahid Afridi have gone past through his tally of 288 wickets.
What does this slim pacer from Mumbai have which likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara & Ricky Ponting don’t…The answer being name on the honors board of Lords – Under the title – Test Centuries at Lords. But what would always bring back is the agony of him seeing go through those seven ducks which shadowed his century at lords and other significant innings like Fastest Fifty against Zimbabwe, a 95 in an ODI at number 3.
Ajit Agarkar battled the perception of being an expensive bowler his whole career and was an amazing tryer for the team; who bowled his heart out and Adelaid test 2003 is one example of his ability. Battling the tag of expensive resource and an underdog is no less pressure when it comes to wearing the coveted blue jersey. Ajit Agarkar ended his 17 year old career which gave the audience lot of joy and exasperation in equal measure but every time he was on to the job with his scowl; he tried and tried his best to achieve the means.