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Diverse in style, India openers a hit

cricket Updated: Jan 19, 2010 00:04 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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A Bollywood scriptwriter could not have done a better job. Two 12-year-old boys meet in Bangalore as they get their first break for the state.

One is a dasher who has modelled his game on Virender Sehwag, from audacious crisp hitting down to the hop-skip run-up off-spin.

The other idolises Rahul Dravid, cover-drives elegantly and works the ball off his hips like a pro, the perfect foil to the daredevil.

The two then rise through the ranks and open the batting for India in a World Cup.

Meet Mayank Agarwal and K.L. Rahul, the Karnataka boys who tucked into the Hong Kong attack like it was a hot serving of bisibelebhath (a South Indian rice preparation) on a cold, rainy day.

The target was not big and the attack fairly pedestrian, but with the serious threat of rain, the chance that lost points would make India's match against England a must-win, and a tricky pitch that was up and down, the stage was set. Thankfully, the actors did not fluff their lines.

Agarwal, stockily built and exuding power, reminds you of a boxer waiting for the bell to ring so he can get stuck into his opponent.

As soon as the ball is in his range, and that's a pretty broad one, he gets stuck in. Driving fearlessly on the up, with the gift of timing, he effortlessly and regularly hits sixes over extra cover, and provided an example on Sunday. His favourite shot, though, is the cut, and it's easy to see why, given how effortless his strokes look.

“The timing and aggression are a gift I've been given by God,” says the student of Jain College in Bangalore, whose alumnus include Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey.

“Today I just played my natural game. Rahul kept telling me to play the ball on merit and I did just that.”

Rahul, who made an unbeaten 62 to Agarwal’s 63, is no slouch either, and a cover drive that stayed all along the turf as it sped to the fence was a shot that the other Rahul would have been proud of.

“It's great to be compared to the player you've looked up to all your life,” said Rahul, even speaking a language that's uncannily similar to his idol.

“I think of it as an honour to be compared to one of the best players India has ever produced.”

Rahul, who is from Mangalore, pitches up in Bangalore often for camps at the National Cricket Academy, and has practiced alongside Dravid.

“He tells me about the mistakes I make, little things about batting,” says Rahul.

“I spoke to him when the World Cup team was announced and he told me about the conditions here in New Zealand and how to prepare mentally as the pitches are completely different from what we're used to back home. That really helped.”

While Dravid is the idol, it's Agarwal who Rahul seeks out in Bangalore, playing together, having lunch and dinner out, just passing time at Agarwal's house.

These friends are an odd couple out in the middle, one a purist's delight, the other a bundle of energy.

Together, though, they're already acquiring a reputation for making life miserable for opposition bowlers.