India vs Australia: Mayank Agarwal impresses on debut as India takes charge

Debutant Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara struck fifties as India braved a pitch with variable bounce to take charge on day one of the third India vs Australia Test.

Mayank Agarwal scored a free-flowing fifty on debut.   -  ap

The action was gripping at the MCG on the Boxing Day. Sparks flew on a surface that quickened up after the early moisture disappeared. 

Mitchell Starc, steaming in with the second new ball, angled a scorcher across Virat Kohli, and ‘keeper Tim Paine, diving desperately, grassed a low catch.

Kohli, stroking with typical nonchalance, was on 47, and the Aussie captain’s lapse could have a significant bearing on the third Test.

Variable bounce

Mitchell Starc, steaming in with the second new ball, angled a scorcher across Virat Kohli, and ‘keeper Tim Paine, diving desperately, grassed a low catch.   -  getty images

 

At stumps on day one, India was 215 for two with Cheteshwar Pujara on 68, and Kohli, 47. Earlier, debutant opener Mayank Agarwal had impressed with his innings of 76.

It wasn’t an easy pitch to bat on. There were variations in bounce, particularly evident when the ball was banged in short. It climbed at different heights and the batsmen took blows on the body. But the Indians, to their credit, applied themselves.

Although there was grass on the surface, Kohli rightly opted to bat; the surface could increasingly assist the bowlers as the match progresses.

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The Indian batsmen waited for their scoring opportunities on a hot, gruelling, attritional day, and built partnerships.

Mayank put on 40 precious runs for the first wicket with Hanuma Vihari and then added 83 for the second with Pujara. And Pujara and Kohli raised an unbeaten 92 for the third.

Meanwhile, Pat Cummins bowled with pace, control and heart and a hostile Starc unleashed a furious late burst.

Pujara, his commitment shining through, cut, punched and glided for runs. Yet, a thumping off-drive off Cummins screamed for attention. Typically, he defended solidly, wore the attack down.

READ| How Mayank trained for the big stage

Kohli’s imperious quality was in view when he blasted Mitchell Marsh down the ground, cover-drove Lyon and whipped Hazlewood. The Indian skipper, however, survived some tense late moments. 

Mayank's opening salvo

Mayank’s cover-driving was gorgeous. He pierced the gaps on the off-side and clipped the bowlers when they erred in line.    -  getty images

 

The focus was on India’s newest opening combination, Vihari and Mayank. Would they, in front of a huge, throbbing Boxing Day audience - the crowd numbered 73238 -  and against a high-quality attack, provide India with a sound start?

The duo displayed resilience. Vihari was circumspect, and Mayank, hardly displaying any nerves on a massive occasion, mixed caution with aggression.

His back-lift might be high but Mayank brings the willow down quickly and gets behind the line. He is slightly square-on but not to the extent that it affects his off-side play.

READ| From blows to records, Mayank makes it count

In fact, much of Mayank’s cover-driving was gorgeous. He pierced the gaps on the off-side and clipped the bowlers when they erred in line. 

The Karnataka cricketer batted with a still head, employed his feet, and was secure in defence and offence. His batting had that vital commodity - balance.

Mayank also handled the short-pitched balls capably, keeping his eyes on the ball and dropping his hands.

Blunting the new ball

Vihari was resolute during his time in the middle.   -  getty images

 

Vihari was resolute but Cummins struck him on the helmet with a short-pitched delivery; the batsman took his eyes off the ball.

Vihari soon fell to a Cummins lifter that seemed to follow him, brushed his gloves, and was held in the cordon.

The openers had batted 18.5 overs to blunt the new ball. The Kookaburra ball moves around in the first 15 overs and the threat had been nullified.

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The fleet-footed Mayank continued to bat with a blend of patience and enterprise, lofting and straight-driving Lyon to bring up his fifty.

The Indians were more positive against Lyon. When the ball was flighted, they used their feet, did not get tied down.

Mayank’s fluency on the off-side forced the Aussies to switch to a 7-2 off-side field.

But then, Cummins struck right before Tea, angling a short-pitched delivery into Mayank and getting the ball to kiss the glove on its way to ‘keeper Paine down the leg-side. 

Yet, the day at the MCG will be remembered forever by the new kid on the block.