Calcutta: All-rounder Ajit Agarkar, who led Mumbai to their 40th Ranji Trophy title, spoke to The Telegraph on Tuesday evening. Agarkar began his India career with a bang, in 1997-98, but didn’t really get an extended run in Test cricket. It was different in the ODIs, though.
Now 35, Agarkar was a member of the squad which won the inaugural World T20, in 2007. His last India appearance remains in that tournament.
The following are excerpts:
One of the forgotten men of Indian cricket is back in the headlines...And, in a big way...
(Laughs) We take a lot of pride playing for Mumbai and it couldn’t have got any better than again winning the Ranji.
But have you missed being in the limelight?
I’ve certainly missed playing for India.
Purely as a moment in your career, where does captaining Mumbai to their 40th Ranji title stand?
Right up there. I’ve been a member of seven Ranji-winning teams and all the wins have meant a lot. Of course, this time, I was the captain...There was more responsibility.
Just over a year ago, you’d been dropped from the XI (against Odisha, in Cuttack). Was that the absolute low?
I think so, yes...I had an injury at the start of the 2011-12 season, played one match and got dropped...I didn’t think that was justified, but we’ve moved on since. I’d like to add that nobody is bigger than the game and, not for a moment, did I think that an exception had to be made for me. As I’ve said, we’ve moved on.
What made the difference for Mumbai this season?
I’m not very sure, but we had quite a few players who’d been a part of successful campaigns...Their experience, I guess, helped.
How did you all celebrate?
We had a team dinner at the Wankhede itself...We’d booked a hall and music had been arranged.
Did Sachin Tendulkar stay for the dinner?
Not for the dinner, but Sachin certainly took part in the celebrations in our dressing room. It was fun.
Captaining must have taught you a few things...
I realised I was in the least stressful dressing room! Don’t forget both Sachin and Zak (Zaheer Khan) were available at the start and Sachin was back in the later stages as well...I did the same things, but the responsibility had increased.
The buck stops with the captain, doesn’t it?
Captains have to take responsibility for their decisions...You have to drop somebody, for all 14 or 15 can’t play...Every move can’t click and, when the moves don’t work, then you’ve got people waiting (with knives out). That’s how it is.
Did you try to captain in a particular manner? Perhaps, like a role model...
Not really...With experienced guys in the dressing room, I was pretty relaxed...I’d learnt a lot from my first (1996-97) Mumbai captain, Sanjay Manjrekar. He was superb.
Is there a captain you’ve admired at the international level?
Plenty...Steve Waugh, who believed in leading from the front...Dada (Sourav Ganguly), who was so successful and under whom I played so much. There have been others.
What keeps motivating you?
I’d love to again play for India, but I’m realistic about where I stand...I was 29 when I last played for India and I’m 35 now...My work ethic remains high and I still have a decent fitness level...At the start of a new season, I see how I’m bowling and move forward from there.
Realistically speaking, till when did you give yourself a chance?
Till the 2011 World Cup...After that, I knew the focus would be on the next World Cup, in 2015.
How many years more do you give yourself?
Haven’t given it a thought...Depends on how my body copes with the longer version. Limited overs cricket and T20 is much easier on the body...Right now, I’m savouring the Ranji win, nothing more.
The search for an all-rounder who can make a difference continues...
You can’t turn someone into an all-rounder...The player must have it in him, naturally, to win matches both with the bat and the ball. Jacques Kallis is special...Andrew Flintoff was special. [Regarded more as a bowler, Agarkar has an unbeaten Test hundred at Lord’s and a 95, at No.3, in an ODI against the West Indies!]
So much has changed from the time you last played for India. How do you look back on the past five-plus years?
Much has indeed changed...Not having Rahul Dravid at No.3 has left a hole in our line-up...Dada retired in 2008, Rahul and (VVS) Laxman retired last year...Big players all...We’ve struggled in the past year-and-a-half...I hope it’s a passing phase, no more.
What’s it like having Sachin in the dressing room?
To have Sachin around is just massive...All of India would have liked him to still be playing ODIs, but we were delighted to have him in our midst.
How much longer could Sachin play for India?
Oh, I can’t answer that...After we were knocked out in the 2007 World Cup, many didn’t expect him to feature in the next edition. Yet, Sachin was very much there and became a member of a World Cup-winning XI. So, I can’t talk about his future...He’s a superhuman when it comes to longevity...What I can say is that, with no Dravid and no Laxman, we need Sachin to be among the runs.
The final one...Who is the most exciting cricketer to have worn the India colours since you last played for the country?
It has to be Virat Kohli...He’s got loads of runs...Besides, he’s settled down quickly as a Test player. That’s not easy, so credit to him.