An Indian pacer steaming in and bowling with a speed in excess of 140 was a dream in the ’90s and early 2000s. In the timeframe between Javagal Srinath-Venkatesh Prasad and Zaheer Khan-Ashish Nehra-L Balaji etc. Mumbai’s Ajit Agarkar emerged as a bowler who could fulfil India’s fast-bowling dream. Making his debut in 1998, the wiry pacer unleashed his best in international cricket for the next ten years.
Born in Mumbai on 4th December 1977, Agarkar showed signs of being another great product of the Bombay school of batting. Under the tutelage of a legendary coach, Ramakant Achrekar, Agarkar flourished as a batsman. His consistent form with the bat in Mumbai school cricket led to comparisons with Sachin Tendulkar at one point in time. However, Agarkar wanted to emulate his idols Dennis Lillee and Kapil Dev.
Agarkar made his first-class debut for the Mumbai team in the 1996/97 season. The national cap came his way in just two years as he found himself in an ODI against Australia at Kochi on April Fool’s Day. Six months later, the Mumbaikar played in a Test match versus Zimbabwe in Harare. Thus began an oscillating career of incredible highs and embarrassing lows.
Fastest to 50 ODI wickets
In just six months of his limited-overs debut, Agarkar clinched the international record of becoming the fastest to take 50 wickets. He completed this feat in his 23rd ODI thus bettering the record set by Australia’s Lillee (24 ODIs). The previous Indian record was in the name of Madan Lal (35 ODIs). 32 of these wickets were taken out of India. Incredibly, Agarkar remained wicketless in only two of his first 23 matches.
With a few quick-fire knocks in the lower order, Ajit Agarkar had shown his batting potential. Indian cricket fans saw him as a promising fast-bowling all-rounder. However, the thought was discarded in the Australian tour of 1999-00. After scoring 19 in his first innings on Australian soil, Agarkar went through a battling period which can be best described as ‘worst’. He was out on the first ball in his four consecutive outings. His fifth inning was 0(2). Aussies dismissed him for a king pair (0 and 0) in the 2001 Mumbai Test to extend the duck streak to seven consecutive innings. Agarkar earned the sobriquet of Bombay Duck for his excruciating ordeal.
Flailing against Zimbabwe
Batting first at Rajkot against Zimbabwe in the fifth ODI, India reached 216/6 in the 44th over largely due to a face-saving partnership between Hemang Badani and Reetinder Singh Sodhi. At number eight, Agarkar walked out. By the time India’s innings ended, he had scored 67 runs from just 25 balls. His blizzard included 21-ball fifty which is still the fastest ODI fifty by an Indian batsman.
The unthinkable at Lords
India toured England in 2002. The first Test of the four-match series was played at the Lord’s. England’s 266-run lead in the first innings set them up for an emphatic victory. India needed to bat out five sessions to ensure a draw. At 165/5, India were 400 runs behind the target. In Agarkar’s presence, it soon turned into 170/6. Taking the tail for company, Agarkar scored 109 not out with 16 boundaries. With this century at Lord’s, Agarkar accomplished a feat which the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and others failed to achieve.
? Happy Birthday, @imAagarkar!
? Here’s the former Indian all-rounder scoring his only Test century, hitting 109 in 2002 at Lord’s ⬇️ #LoveLords
— Lord’s Cricket Ground (@HomeOfCricket) December 4, 2019
Awesome at Adelaide
The Australia-India series was 0-0 going into the second Test at Adelaide Oval. Rahul Dravid replied to Ricky Ponting’s 242 with a spectacular 233. India trailed by 33 runs as Australia began their third essay. Agarkar sent back Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting in his first five overs to cripple Australia. He later returned to demolish Australia from 184/6 to 196 all out. His spell of 6/41 remains an iconic number in India’s away Test history. This was Agarkar’s first five-for in international cricket. He took two more in ODI cricket.
Ajit Agarkar is the third-highest wicket-taker for India in ODI cricket after Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. He still holds the record for the fastest fifty in ODIs for India. Agarkar’s Adelaide spell remains a key performance in securing India’s one of the most famous Test wins. He captained Mumbai to their 40th Ranji Trophy title and is currently serving as India’s chief selector.