MELBOURNE: Mayank Agarwal, India’s 295th Test cap, scored a 161-ball 76 to end India’s opening woes and help them retain control on day one of the Boxing Day Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The visitors ended the day at 215/2, with Cheteshwar Pujara (68*) and skipper Virat Kohli (47*) at the crease. Pat Cummins was the only Australian bowler who could engineer a breakthrough, ending the day with figures of 2/40.
India, who won the toss and decided to bat first, opted for a complete revamp of their opening combination. They brought in Agarwal and promoted Hanuma Vihari to the top of the order in place of Murali Vijay and KL Rahul.
Vihari battled hard for his 66-ball 8, but was undone by a smart and skiddy delivery from Cummins. The 40-run stand for the first wicket was still an improvement for the visitors, who saw their opening batsmen stand at the crease for 18.5 overs. Pujara, India’s top-scorer in the series so far, collaborated with Agarwal to add 83 runs for the second wicket. They all but played out the entire second session, only for Agarwal to fall just before tea. A short delivery from Cummins caught the inside edge of the batsman’s gloves, nestling safely in Tim Paine’s hands behind the wicket.
Agarwal’s 76 is the second-highest score for an Indian opening batsman making a debut in overseas conditions, just a run behind the 77 Sudhir Naik scored in England back in 1974. While he missed out on the record – and a well-deserved century – his splendid effort in away conditions was impressive. His strong back-lift, comfort against the spinner and solid technique were the biggest standouts from his innings.
Kohli then joined Pujara for a marathon partnership, which took India to stumps without further hiccups. India’s reliable middle-order duo added 92 runs in the final session. Australia’s best chance of the session came when Kohli went searching for a wide delivery from Starc, but Paine couldn’t hold on to the ball despite his diving effort. The dropped catch fired up the bowler, who then bowled a scintillating over. He did everything right, extracting an outside edge and producing three appeals, but the Indian skipper survived.