Mayank Agarwal’s journey from being ignored to becoming the 295th player to make his debut for India could be part of a thrilling Bollywood movie. The right-hander, who banged hard on the doors of national selection in 2017/18 with over 2000 runs in domestic cricket, was ignored then. He continued to score runs but was still ignored. Agarwal was picked in the West Indies series but not given a game. His omission from the initial squad for the Australia tour was interpreted as unfair. Agarwal got the nod for Melbourne only because Prithvi Shaw was ruled out. When he got the chance, the right-handed batsman pounced on it and struck a glorious fifty on debut. Aided by Cheteshwar Pujara’s second fifty in the series and Virat Kohli’s aggressive knock, India made a great start to the Boxing Day Test by reaching 215/2 at stumps on day 1 against Australia in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Virat Kohli won an important toss and chose to bat. When Hanuma Vihari strode out to bat with Agarwal, the duo became the first Indian opening pair to open for the first time in Tests in 82 years. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins all tried to extract life from a wicket which had some grass covering but lacked the zip, pace and bounce of Perth and Adelaide. Agarwal made confident progress while Vihari ensured that Australia could not capitalise the first hour.
However, Cummins broke the 40-run opening stand when he got Vihari (8) out with a sharp bouncer that thudded into the gloves and the ball lobbed to third slip where Finch took the catch. Agarwal was joined by Pujara and the duo steadied the ship. While Pujara focused on stonewalling the Australian attack, Agarwal got going with a couple of boundaries and reached his maiden fifty by smashing Nathan Lyon for two boundaries. The reception that Agarwal received at the G would have eased all the years of hardship and frustration.
Agarwal grew in confidence and he launched Lyon into the stands at deep midwicket for a big six. However, in the last over of the second session, Cummins, who was the only bowler to extract some life from the deck, once again bowled a bouncer which Agarwal could only fend to the leg side. However, Pujara and Virat Kohli looked in great touch and ensured Australia toiled in the final session.
Kohli aggressive, Pujara solid
The final session saw Kohli easing into confidence with a couple of boundaries. Although the likes of Starc and Hazlewood tempted him to drive away from the body, Kohli survived and made good progress. The Indian skipper survived an LBW appeal off Lyon and it was not overturn on review as the impact was outside off stump. At the other end, Pujara continued to bat with positivity and reached his 21st fifty and second of this series.
When the second new ball was taken, Australia sensed an opening and they looked to take a couple of wickets. In the 87th over bowled by Starc, the pressure was built nicely. The left-armer got a ball to cut back in off the deck and Kohli was rapped on the pads but the ball was possibly going over the stumps and missing leg stump. Next ball, Starc delivered the sucker punch as he bowled a full and wide delivery. Kohli edged it but Tim Paine dropped the catch. The next four balls featured deliveries which were more than 150 kmph but Kohli negotiated it safely.
India have made the right start but the dropped chance of Kohli at the end of the day has given the visitors plenty of momentum as the Test progresses.