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MCG mantra: Hit the deck

The Melbourne weather can be as fickle as a batsman's form. One moment you are shivering, the next you could be sweating.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 01:30 IST

The Melbourne weather can be as fickle as a batsman's form. One moment you are shivering, the next you could be sweating. The sun chose to strike with all its might on the Christmas eve, forcing the Indians to practice in the sweltering afternoon heat at the MCG here on Wednesday.

But there were still smiling faces in the Indian camp, and that is what John Wright and company wanted. The bright sunshine should definitely help the wicket -- covered with a generous layer of grass -- shed most of its dampness.

Most of the pre-match predictions suggest that the wicket should have a good amount of bounce, though the curator of the ground, Tony Wares, says it will be a good batting track. The rider is: "If any bowler hits the deck, he will get good response from it."

So, hitting the deck is the name of the game now and with the return of Brett Lee, Australia are naturally better equipped in that department. India too have their Lee in Zaheer Khan, who has recovered from his hamstring injury and is fit to play.

There is another bowler in the team, whose built, height and appearance may not intimidate even a school boy, but he has shown enough skills every time he has come to Australia and reasserted that it is time his bowling is taken seriously.

After his match-winning 6 for 41 at the Adelaide Oval, Ajit Agarkar can be pardoned even if he struts around the field with a bit of arrogance. But the boyish-faced Mumbaikar is not the sort who would want the limelight focused on him and is modest enough to admit, "It is true that my built is not that of a fast bowler, so there is nothing wrong in people expressing surprise at my ability to bowl fast."

Doesn't he find it hard to bowl quick? "No. It is something that comes naturally to me. Yes, I work pretty hard to do this job," he says.

Agarkar has an interesting past and anecdotal history behind him. He started playing when 12. If you are in Mumbai and have not been groomed at Ramakant Archrekar's stable you cannot become a top-notch cricketer. Agarkar too, is Achrekar's product, though till his school and even college days he was a batsman. He has a triple hundred in an inter-school match and hundreds in all grades of junior cricket. So, what made him take up bowling seriously?

He did that for two reasons. One, it would have been impossible for him to break into the Mumbai team as a batsman and two, his mentor Sachin Tendulkar, saw him in a Kanga League match and told him to take his bowling seriously.

Whatever the sceptics may have to say about him, the fact remains that in the domestic circuit, Agarkar is a champion bowler, who intimidates the batsmen with his nip and bounce.

When he first came into the limelight, one remembers that Bishan Singh Bedi, rarely given to hyperbole, especially when it comes to assessing a cricketer, had said: "This man has tremendous talent. He reminds me of Kapil Dev."

Agarkar blushes when you remind him of that statement and says, "I wasn't aware then that this was being said about me, though I heard about it much later."

It is not his fault that a comparison like that was made. The second time he hit the headlines was when Mr Jaywant Lele, the former Board secretary, said of him: "He can never play Test cricket."

Lele, known for making outrageous statements, got so peeved at coach Kapil for inviting Agarkar to the nets in the 1999 Ahmedabad Test against New Zealand that he made the above statement.

Lele's famous prediction that India would lose all three Tests on their 1999-2000 Australia Test turned true but he his astrological skills failed him when it came to predicting Agarkar's future.

Agarkar bowled well on that tour and was the highest wicket-taker of the series for India. Yet, the Indian cricket fans never took him seriously.

People forget he has few rivals when it comes to reverse swinging the ball and despite his fragile frame he is the quickest bowler after Zaheer in the team.

By his Adelaide performance Agarkar, one reckons, has done more than enough to wipe out the memory of his seven consecutive ducks in Test cricket.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 01:30 IST