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Agarwal means business 

Melbourne, December 26

Debutant Mayank Agarwal provided the base with a confident half-century before Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara steered India to a solid 215/2 on Day 1 of the third Test against Australia today.

Agarwal, thrust into the deep end following the failures of KL Rahul and Murali Vijay in the first two Tests, responded with 76 runs off 161 balls. It must be noted, however, that the batting conditions were less difficult than encountered by Rahul and Vijay in Adelaide and Perth. The MCG pitch turned out to be docile, ideal for someone making his Test debut.

Makeshift opener Hanuma Vihari did not make many runs, getting just 8 off 68 balls in his 40-run stand with Agarwal, but they batted out 18.5 overs. This is India’s longest opening stand in terms of balls faced in Tests across Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa since December 2010.

The combination of Agarwal and Vihari was India’s sixth opening pairing in 2018, and fifth in 11 overseas Tests this year. Agarwal grabbed the opportunity with both hands, though he missed out on a hundred on debut. His 78 came off 161 balls, and he hit eight fours and one six. He became only the second Indian to make a 50-plus score on debut on Australian soil after Dattu Phadkar (51) in Sydney in 1947. Overall, he became the seventh Indian batsman to score a half-century on Test debut. 

Agarwal fell at the stroke of tea, caught down the leg-side off paceman Pat Cummins, the only successful bowler for the hosts. 

The lack of pace in the wicket made skipper Paine give the ball to off-spinner Lyon in the eighth over.

Kohli-Pujara in charge

Skipper Kohli and Pujara then took control, denying the hosts any other success in the final session. Kohli had to survive a hostile Mitchell Starc over towards the end to stay unbeaten on 47. Tim Paine dropped a tough catch in that Starc over. Kohli and Pujara, who is batting on 68, have stitched a 92-run stand for the third wicket. 

The Indian captain had walked out to bat to a mixture of cheers and boos, but soon impressed the capacity crowd at the MCG with his repertoire of strokes. He sped off the blocks and at one stage was scoring at a strike rate 70-plus before Australia regained some control with tight bowling. 

At the other end, Pujara continued in his usual manner and brought up his 21st Test half-century off 152 balls.

Agarwal’s start

Earlier, Agarwal kept the scoreboard ticking after a watchful initial period, reaching his maiden Test half-century off 95 balls. He and Pujara added 83 runs for the second wicket, and thus, for only the second time in 11 overseas Tests this year, Kohli arrived at the crease with over 100 runs on the scoreboard.

To their credit, Australia created chances in the latter half of this second session. In the 52nd over, Pujara had a close shave when a possible catch fell just short of a diving Usman Khawaja in the gully region. Three overs later, Agarwal edged Cummins through the vacant third slip, but the pacer got Agarwal three balls later.

Dogged Vihari

Vihari took 25 balls to score his first run as he batted with patience, which the previous opening pair had been unable to display. Vihari was hit on the helmet in the 13th over off Cummins as Australia started bowling short and attacking the batsmen more. Vihari shrugged off the blow and went on to face 66 balls, the second-highest for an Indian opener in five innings this series.

Cummins got him with a sharply-rising delivery in the 19th over as Vihari took his eyes off the ball and gloved it to Aaron Finch in the slip region. The Australian pacers continued to test the batsmen with sharp bouncers, but the Indians managed to hold firm. 

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