Mayank Agarwal: Punjab Kings captaincy has been a 'great learning experience'

Batsman reveals his most memorable moments on the field this season

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Mayank Agarwal has had an interesting start to his captaincy at Punjab Kings.

The franchise set the tone early in the IPL 2022 season for what could possibly be a template for T20 cricket in the future – power hitters throughout the playing XI. Their line-up of Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Liam Livingstone, Jitesh Sharma, Shah Rukh Khan, Odean Smith – for a period – and later Jonny Bairstow signalled an intention of not taking the foot off the pedal at any point in the innings.

But after winning three out of their first five games, the strategy began to unravel. Captain Agarwal moved himself down the order to allow Bairstow to open with the in-form Shikhar Dhawan. The Englishman was in his element once again, hitting two fifties in his last three games. But Punjab had fallen behind by that time.

Punjab Kings have only a slim chance of qualifying for the playoffs due to a negative net run rate. The can reach a maximum of 14 points if they win their final league phase game against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday. Three other teams have 16 points or more, while Delhi Capitals are already on 14 points with a much superior net run rate.

Even so, Agarwal is content with the way the season has turned out.

"There is an emphasis on the brand of cricket we want to play – an aggressive brand of cricket. I think we have done well. It's not a very easy strategy to implement. When you play that kind of cricket, you understand what the setbacks you can have are," Agarwal told The National.

"It has been a great learning experience. I would have liked to have contributed a lot more with the bat. I understand this is part of the game. Every season, you want to put in those performances. Sometimes they come off, sometimes they don't," the Karnataka batsman added, after scoring just one fifty in 12 games for 195 runs.

But where Agarwal did do well is in the captaincy department. Experts and fans lauded him for taking the difficult option of dropping himself down the order to allow Bairstow to open the innings, where run-scoring is generally easier in T20 cricket. It's one of the decisions the 31-year-old is proud of.

"We thought Jonny was not being best used at number four and five. He has done well in the opening slot. So to best use Jonny, we thought of moving the batting around. I am glad he has gone out and put in the performances for the team," Agarwal said.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed leading the side. The decisions you make, how you help other players [to] get the best out of them ... sending Jonny up the order was one of those things."

Another fine moment on the field came when Punjab opened the bowling with spin-bowling all-rounder Liam Livingstone against Delhi Capitals, and got David Warner out first ball.

"Liam bowled the first over against Delhi and got Warner out first ball, when you plan such stuff and it comes off, it feels really good.

You are very pleased as a captain when you back the players and they perform well

"As a leader, you have to be open to doing lot of things differently and also backing your players when they need it. Odean Smith had a hard game [against Gujarat Titans, conceding two sixes with 12 needed off last two balls], next game he came out and did exceedingly well [4-30 against Mumbai Indians]. Those are the things you are very pleased [about] as a captain when you back the players and they perform well."

There have been other positives as well for Punjab this season. Left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh was retained and repaid that trust by emerging as the most consistent death overs seamer this season - his economy of 7.3 in overs 16 to 20 is better than Jasprit Bumrah.

"Arshdeep is someone who is always willing to stand up when the chips are down. He has good leadership qualities. Credit to him for how calm he stayed under pressure," Agarwal said of the young pacer who is likely to be a part of India's T20 World Cup plans.

Arshdeep is one of a number of impressive young fast bowlers who have emerged this IPL. Lucknow Giants' left-arm quick Mohsin Khan and Sunrisers Hyderabad's explosive Umran Malik have bolstered India's pace bowling stocks to unprecedented levels.

"We have really good bowlers like Avesh Khan, Mohsin Khan, Umran Malik. Arshdeep has been terrific," Agarwal said. "There are a lot of young bowlers, which is great for Indian cricket. Credit to BCCI for that. And credit to the guys for stepping up, playing their first or second season."

Updated: May 19, 2022, 3:12 AM