"It was terrible." This was Mayank Agarwal's first response when quizzed about his state of mind after he had bagged a pair against Hyderabad in Karnataka's second group stage game of the Ranji Trophy this season. Agarwal, despite carrying the tag of a talented player ever since his first class debut in 2013, had struggled to be a regular feature of the Karnataka side.
With just 31 runs from three innings in the first two matches of the season, it looked the same old story was about to unfold for Agarwal. But after that pair came the twist. He slammed the doors of doubt with a triple century in the very next game.
The right-handed opener batted every innings as if it was his last and the results of the enormous hunger made him the story of the season. The consistency of the 26-year-old was almost unbelievable as he racked up 1160 runs in his Ranji campaign to emerge the top run-getter.
It hardly mattered for Agarwal if the format changed as he was in no mood to stop. Karnataka squandered a strong chance to clinch their ninth Ranji Trophy but they compensated for the slip up with the Vijay Hazare Trophy crown. Agarwal was the star in this tournament as well, scoring 723 runs at an average of 90.37.
As he gears up for the final domestic challenge, the Deodhar Trophy, Agarwal speaks to DH about his fantastic form, the hard work behind it, the goals ahead and more...
What was going through your mind after the dreadful start?
It just didn't feel right. I felt scratchy. I didn't know what was going to happen. It was nice of KL (Rahul) and Ronit (More) to come up to me and have a word. Subsequently, Vinay (Kumar) spoke to me. That felt really nice. To know you have your team-mates backing you when you're not doing well was good. KL told me 'It's alright. This is the worst that could have happened. Now look forward. Think positive even if it feels outrageous.'
I went back to my coach RX Murali and worked hard. We had long conversations and he tried hard to remove my mental blocks.
How hard was it to control your aggression and spend time in the middle?
When you're not getting runs, you have to spend some time at the wicket. Your confidence level isn't high. You have to give yourself that many extra balls, especially if you're playing a four-day game. There's no hurry. When the season started it was difficult. I took 22 balls and never got off the mark against Hyderabad. Those things happen but it's more about playing the situation.
You batted long in the Vijay Hazare Trophy...
That was the plan. We in Karnataka understand as players that everybody cannot perform in every single match. Every player can't have a great season every time. So guys who are doing well should make sure they take the team through. That's something that we learnt when we won the two trebles. People who do well have to keep pushing harder and harder. If you look at the Ranji Trophy, we messed it up in two sessions. I didn't want that to happen again.
Despite the brilliant run, you missed out on the national selection..
To be honest, the day after the team was announced we had the Vijay Hazare Trophy final to play. And it's all about what you have in your hand and staying in the present. In today's scenario, we have a lot of games. So there's always something to look forward to.
What changes have you brought into your fitness regime?
When I was 20, I was a little more chubby. I had to shed some kilos. I used to hit the gym, train hard but I wasn't able to see the results.
That's when I said I would do a lot of long-distance running and go on an all-protein diet and try and completely cut out carbohydrate. For one and a half months I did that. I dropped about 10 kilos in that period. This was when I was playing for RCB. I've been working hard on my training from then on. If I am going for a run between the games, I do about 6km. But if I am running in the off-season or when there is a two-three week break, I will do 12-15 km sessions.
This has been a dream run. How are you handling the attention?
It's something our seniors have done in Karnataka. Also it's the dressing room environment, where you're always looking to play for the team, always talking about the team. Obviously the team comes above every individual. I come with the thought that no individual is bigger than the team or the game. Whether I have got runs previously or not, today is a new day. I have to start from zero. We have to be aware of that and be humble. I know this game is a great leveller. If there is a process helping you get runs, then you don't change that.
You were prolific run-scorer at the U-19 level. Do you feel you done justice to your talent?
Whenever someone questioned me saying, 'Oh you were right on track, what happened?' you do sit back and think about it. But I feel everyone walks a different path. Everyone makes their journey differently. There is no point in comparing. You shouldn't sit and compare and say' 'Oh, how come he's got there early and I am not getting there'. Everyone has his own journey. Your time will come when it has to.
What changes do you see in you as a player now?
I think the difference is that I know my game better and I know myself better now. Having got those insights, I feel I can deal with situations better.
How do you switch off from the game?
I like to spend time at home. We have got a quiet place in Electronic City. I go home, spend a lot of time with family and once in a while go out for a movie, go out for a couple of meals with friends but nothing apart from that. It's about switching your brain off and completely giving yourself some time.