Is Ajit Agarkar India’s most underrated bowler?

Is Ajit Agarkar India’s most underrated bowler?

Remember any of Ajit Agarkar’s special spells in international cricket?

Probably not. Let’s explore.

Initially coached by Ramakant Achrekar, Agarkar started as a batsman in Mumbai’s domestic circuit but 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 between 1998-2007 and despite being shorter compared to other fast bowlers, he consistently clocked 140-plus owing to his athletic body and run-up speed.

He had a knack to bowl conventional swing at the start of the innings and reverse swing deliveries late.

Also a handy batsman, John Wright used to send him up the order as a pinch hitter and he repaid the faith by displaying some amazing six-hitting capabilities.

In 1998 at Sharjah, when a mysteriously promoted Nikhil Chopra fell, India had to score 31 from 22 balls against Sri Lanka with three wickets in hand. The pre-T20 era, the match was as good as lost, but Agarkar scored 26 off 12 balls.

However, his most notable achievement with the bat came when he scored a memorable hundred at Lord’s in 2002, an accomplishment that even legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting cannot boast.

Ricky Ponting of Australia works the ball to leg

Some of his acclaimed knocks in ODIs include smacking the fastest 50 in 21 balls in 2000 against Zimbabwe and taking three wickets in the match as well.

Once, he was sent in at number three against a formidable West Indian side and scored an amazing 95.

Agarkar also got the nickname ‘Bombay Duck’ when he got out on a duck in seven consecutive innings (four off the first ball) against Australia.

With the ability to swing the ball both ways at express pace, Agarkar was the third-highest Indian ODI wicket-taker, with 288, only behind Anil Kumble (334) and Javagal Srinath (315).

He was the fastest bowler to 50 ODI wickets at one time, achieving this when he broke Dennis Lillee’s world record in a mere 23 matches. He is also the quickest player to take ODI 200 wickets and score 1000 runs, achieved in 133 matches, breaking the record set by South African legend Shaun Pollock’s 138-match effort.

He never quite performed at the same level in Tests, playing 26 and averaging 47.32 with the ball.

However his most notable Test performance came in Adelaide against Australia, when he helped India to victory by picking up 6-41. His bunny, Justin Langer, fell to Agarkar five times in the series and was trapped leg-before. Ponting cut him hard to Aakash Chopra at point for a duck. Then, with the Aussies at 6-184, Agarkar scythed through the rest of the line-up to bowl them out for 196.

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It was only fitting that he was at the crease when the winning stroke was scored for an Indian victory on Australian soil after over two decades.

It was his only five-for in Test cricket, although he followed it up with 6-42 against the Australians at Melbourne in an ODI on the same tour.

After his retirement in 2007, his last notable achievement in cricket was to lead Mumbai to the Ranji Trophy triumph in 2013.

With his stats, he should be considered one of the greatest ODI fast bowlers India has ever produced.