It has been a memorable few weeks for India batsman Mayank Agarwal. By the end of November, he received the news that Punjab Kings had decided to retain him for the 2022 IPL, which was a big stamp of approval of his T20 skills when many star names had been released by their franchises and sent to the auction pool.
But Agarwal did not have too much time to celebrate as he was busy facing New Zealand in the two-Test home series. There was also the task of cementing a place in the crowded Indian batting line-up. With Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane not in the line-up for varying reasons and durations, it gave the right-hand batsman a chance to put his case forward and he did so convincingly.
Agarwal scored 150 and 62 in the second Test in Mumbai, which set up India's mammoth 372-run win over the World Test champions, who had of late become their bogey team across formats. The win was, understandably, special for Agarwal and the Indians.
"New Zealand is a quality side. They play a very structured cricket, very disciplined cricket. It was very good of us to counter them and play the way we did," Agarwal told The National. "They showed great fight in the first game. We did exceedingly well in the second game. It was a great and well-fought series."
When it came to his batting, Agarwal had to quickly adjust to the turn on offer at the Wankhede Stadium on the opening day itself.
"I tried to be a bit more side on. It was more about grit, determination, resilience and fight. I am very happy that it worked well.
"The surface was a bit slow, and it started to turn initially. The wicket had a lot of moisture. We had to respect the conditions and had to wait for the pitch to dry up."
The Test series was also significant for the Indian team as it was their first under new coach Rahul Dravid. Many players in the Indian line-up have already been guided by the former India captain, who had coached the India A and Under-19 side for many years before his rise to the senior team.
The 30-year-old batsman said having a familiar figure like Dravid as coach made the transition to a new management that much easier.
"We have worked with him since India A. He has always been a guiding factor for all of us, not just me. It’s great to have him there. We are really enjoying the environment.
"Since we have worked with Rahul bhai, he understands the game better, the mindset better. He is somebody who does not talk too much about technique. He tries to help you mentally. And when you have an off season, he can actually help you with technique."
Technique is something Dravid has absolute mastery over; he was called 'The Wall' for that very reason. Agarwal said he has worked on a few things with the coach, but added that the focus has been on the mental aspect of the game.
"We have had a few chats [about technique] but I can’t say that now. We have spoken about what areas we need to focus. But the thing I have carried with him since India A is the thought process and managing mental energy."
Technique and mental strength will be the biggest factors for India's batsmen in their next challenge - the upcoming tour of South Africa that consists of three Tests and as many ODIs. The first Test starts on Boxing Day.
Agarwal knows the challenges that await him - mainly express quicks Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and possibly Duanne Olivier.
The top order batsman is preparing for a barrage of short balls, but is wary of making too many changes to his batting that has worked well enough so far and earned him four tons and five fifties in 16 Tests.
"Going to South Africa is a challenge in itself. We have played really good cricket. Winning against Australia in Australia, and being 2-1 up against England in England gives us a lot of confidence.
"[Have been] working on short ball a lot. But not making too many changes. It’s just about preparation, practising, trying to emulate the conditions and trying to figure a way out to counter it."
What Agarwal is willing to do is being open to change his batting position according to the team's requirements; a fully-fit Indian's batting side has a number of players vying for, arguably, three slots.
"I am willing to bat anywhere the team requires me to bat. That is not a problem. With great completion in the team, it is fantastic. We push each and help each other to get better as cricketers, which only helps us take the team to a better place."