Some of the best Indian fast bowlers of the 2000s? Zaheer Khan, particularly his bowling in the 2011 World Cup; Irfan Pathan, those crazy swinging deliveries and that special first over hattrick against Pakistan. Ajit Agarkar? Remember any of his special spells in international cricket? Probably not! So let’s explore.
Initially coached by Ramakant Achrekar Sir, Agarkar started as a batsman and scored heavily in Mumbai’s domestic circuit. He turned to bowling when he realised that he’d have a better shot in getting selected for Mumbai’s Ranji team if he played as an all-rounder. Agarkar played for India for almost 10 years between 1998-2007. Despite being a shorter figure as compared to other Indian fast bowlers, he consistently clocked 140+ kmph owing to his athletic body and a good run-up speed. He has had a knack to bowl conventional swing at the start of the innings and reverse swing deliveries late in the game.
He was also a very handy batsman and John Wright used to send him up the order at times as a pinch hitter and he repaid his faith in him by displaying some amazing batting prowess and six-hitting capabilities. In 1998 at Sharjah, When a mysteriously promoted Nikhil Chopra fell, India had to score 31 from 22 balls. They had three wickets in hand as walked out to bat. This being the pre-T20 era, the match was as good as lost, but an Agarkar scored 26 in 12 balls to help India beat Sri Lanka with five balls to spare. However, his most notable achievement came with the bat when he entered the Honours Board by scoring a memorable hundred at the Lord’s in 2002, an accomplishment that even legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting cannot boast about. Some of his acclaimed knocks in ODIs are when he smacked the fastest 50 in 21 balls in 2000 against Zimbabwe and took 3 wickets in the match as well. Once, he was sent at number 3 against a formidable West Indian side and he took full toll of the opportunity and scored an amazing 95. Agarkar also got the name ‘Bombay Duck’ when he got out on a duck in 7 consecutive innings(four of the first ball), against Australia, a rather embarassing record.
Agarkar had the ability to swing the ball both ways with express pace, which made him the third highest Indian wicket takers in ODIs with 288 wickets to his name only behind Anil Kumble (334) and Javagal Srinath (315). Interestingly, Agarkar has more ODI wickets than Zaheer(282) despite playing nine matches less than the Baroda pacer. Moreover, Agarkar has a better bowling average and a better strike-rate than both Zaheer and Srinath. He was the fastest bowler to 50 ODI wickets at one time. Ajit achieved this rare feat when he broke Dennis Lillee’s world record for achieving the fastest 50 wickets in ODI cricket and that too in a mere 23 matches. He is also the quickest player in ODIs to take 200 wickets and score 1000 runs. He achieved the feat in 133 matches, breaking the record set by South African legend Shaun Pollock, who took 138 matches.His task was similar to what Waqar Younis in the Pakistan team was supposed to do, to just pick wickets and not care about an odd boundary conceded here and there.
In Tests, he could never quite perform at the same level. He played 26 test and averaged 47.32 with the ball. His body couldn’t support the rigours of Tests, and he became a one-day specialist—one that many would say was India’s most effective bowler. However his notable test performance came in Adelaide against Australia when he helped India to a test match victory by picking 6/41. His “bunny” Langer (he fell to Agarkar five times in the series) was trapped leg-before; Ricky Ponting cut him hard to Aakash Chopra at point for a duck. Then, with the Australian score on 184 for 6, Agarkar scythed through the rest of the line-up to bowl them out for 196; it was only fitting that he was at the crease when Dravid hit the winning stroke to pull off an Indian victory on Australian soil after over two decades. The 6 for 41 remains his only five-for in Test cricket. He followed it up with 6 for 42 against the Australians at Melbourne in an ODI on the same tour.
After his retirement from international cricket in 2007, his last notable achievement in cricket was to lead Mumbai to Ranji Trophy triumph in 2013. With his stats, he should be considered one of the greatest fast bowler mainly in ODI’s India has ever produced. However, he is severely underrated.
By Paramdeep Rathee