“Nothing really went wrong, it’s just that I nicked everything I played”.
Ajit Agarkar’s upbeat summary of his batting after being dismissed five times in six balls against Australia in 1999/2000.
Words: Richard H Thomas
My club career started with three ducks – one a golden glozzer. Billed as “a batsman who can bowl a bit,” within three games I was a “net bowler who can’t bat”. I kept my place in the 2nd XI for a decade because there wasn’t a 3rd XI and I took my car to away games. Three blobs did for my delusions of grandeur, but they were trifling failures compared to those of Ajit Agarkar.
In India’s second innings in the first Test at Adelaide in 1999 he began a trot that would have seen many putting their cricket kit into a black bag and taking it to the dump. A stubborn, 88-minute innings of 19 in the first dig was like the opening scene in a medical drama before someone falls down a manhole. He was promptly caught in the gully by Steve Waugh – an odd shot, according to Ian Chappell, because “that’s where all the fielders are”.
In the first innings at Melbourne he fell to another first baller, plumb in front to some devilish reverse swing from a youthful Brett Lee. First ball in the second innings he was pouched at point by Greg Blewett off a filthy long hop from Mark Waugh.
By the time India got to Sydney, Agarkar had kept his place by virtue of 11 wickets in the previous two Tests, albeit he’d dropped down the order one spot from No.8. By now the TV commentary team were onto him too. As he approached the middle looking more serious than a man who’d just transferred his life savings to Cyprus, Tony Grieg reassured us that “he’s a good cricketer this fellow,” but six slips suggested the Aussies didn’t believe him. Seconds later, poor Ajit guided his first ball safely into the hands of Mark Waugh at slip to make it four blobs on the trot.
As he emerged for his second innings, Channel Nine played his last four Test innings in their entirety. When the package finished he still wasn’t halfway to the middle. Confidence wasn’t high; Andrew Ramsey in the Weekend Australian suggested that everyone assumed Agarkar had been relieved of his batting ability “by customs officers upon entering the country”. Greig though, remained sympathetic. “Spare a thought for this bloke,” he appealed, and everyone with half a heart clicked their tongues and shook their heads. There is no record of the welcome he received from Glenn McGrath, but it probably wasn’t “Don’t worry old chum, here’s a loopy half volley for one off the mark”.
The first ball passed benignly past off stump. “Well done! He’s let it go!” chuckled Bill Lawry. It looked as though his truly horrible run was finally over until he was caught behind next ball, and a graphic of five yellow ducks accompanied his excruciating march back to the hutch.
It still wasn’t even over then, as he collected two more zeroes the next time he played Australia in Mumbai, and was dubbed the ‘Bombay Duck’ by the same wags that came up with ‘Armanought’ for Mohinder Amarnath when he collected three on the trot in 1982/83.
It’s unfortunate for Agarkar that he is asked more about his seven ducks than his fifty in 21 balls – the fastest in ODIs by an Indian – or his maiden Test ton against England at Lord’s in 2002. But Agarkar can at least back on his moment in the sun at the Home of Cricket knowing that there’s at least one Indian batsman who would have taken a few of those ducks off his hands in exchange for some gold leaf on the honours board at NW8.