Disciplined gameplans, low backlift against swing: Rahul & Mayank’s recipe for first session succes

Mayank Agarwal has witnessed KL Rahul’s resurrection as a Test batsman at close quarters. Not only did he share a 117-run opening partnership with Rahul on the first day of the first Test against South Africa at Centurion on Sunday, but over the last one year, the two Karnataka team-mates have trained together and turned out for Punjab Kings in the IPL.

Agarwal scored an enterprising half-century today, but Rahul reached three-figures and remained unbeaten at the end of the day’s play. The latter has been a revelation as a long-form batsman ever since his return to the Test fold in England earlier this year. So what has Rahul done behind the scenes?

His opening partner was asked this question at the post-day press conference and Agarwal was coy to start with, before offering some technical insight into Rahul’s batting. “Well, that’s a question you should ask him,” he said before elaborating a bit. “As someone who is watching him closely, he (Rahul) really understands where his off stump is. He is really getting to the line of the ball and he is leaving very well. And he is very disciplined with his gameplans and mindset. He is looking to bat sessions and he is looking to bat through, whenever he gets set.”

Traditionally, Centurion hasn’t been kind to Indian openers and when India batted first in overcast conditions, discipline had to be the key. “To be honest, the plan was to be very disciplined, play the balls that were on the stumps and try and leave as many balls as possible. And I’m glad that we could do just that. We had great centre-wicket practice (coming into the game) and you could really get a feel of the situations and conditions,” Agarwal said.

Rahul Dravid has a fantastic record as a batsman in South Africa and the message from the head coach was to be disciplined. “He was very clear. He said that, ‘when you are playing in South Africa, it’s not about looking good or not looking good. It’s about sticking to your plan and waiting for your opportunities to score’. We were thinking around those lines and I’m glad that we could do well in the first session,” said the opener whose half-century came on the heels of his 150 against New Zealand at Wankhede.

With Rohit Sharma available, Agarwal wouldn’t have played in this game. But in conditions that aided the seamers to start with, the two Indian openers showed serious application. Agarwal yet again followed Sunil Gavaskar’s advice in toto, keeping a low backlift against the swinging ball. “There was a bit of moisture on the wicket early on and that’s why we could see a few balls kicking off a length. It’s just got a little better to bat on as the day progressed and it got a little quicker,” said Agarwal.

Leg-before debate

On 60, Agarwal was given out leg-before via DRS, which overturned on-field umpire Marius Erasmus’ decision. Ball-tracking took some time to appear on TV and when it did, it showed that the ball was clipping top of the stumps. The umpire’s call, though, wasn’t made available. Agarwal was struck high on the pad but Erasmus had to change his decision. The batsman left the field visibly unhappy, muttering something under his breath.

At the press conference, Agarwal opted for caution. “Well, to be honest, I’m not allowed to express my opinion on it. And I would leave it at that unless I want to be in the bad books and get my money (match fee) docked.”

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