Agarwal ton lifts India on an engaging day

Opener Mayank Agarwal celebrates after reaching his century on the opening day of the second Test against South Africa in Pune on Thursday. PTI

Mayank Agarwal has developed a huge appetite for runs. It’s those mountain of runs he scored between 2016-2018 seasons that made him the talk of domestic circuit and caught the the selectors’ eyes. Now, in his nascent Test career, the opener has showed the same insatiable hunger with a sparkling century to lead India’s charge against South Africa here on Thursday.

Playing a typically textbook Test innings, giving the opening hour to the bowlers and then slowly stepping on the accelerator as the innings progressed, the 28-year-old Agarwal cracked a sparkling 108 (195b, 16x4, 2x6) — his second straight Test ton — on a challenging MCA Stadium pitch. Skipper Virat Kohli (63 not out, 105b, 10x4) and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane (18 not out, 70b, 3x4) then steered the ship in a tricky final session, played under lights because of poor light, as India took stumps at 273/3 in 85.1 overs on the opening day of the second Test.

Agarwal and Rohit Sharma, the duo who took apart the South Africans with a triple-century stand in the opening Test last week, were given a solid workout on a balmy Thursday morning by Proteas pacers Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada. The pace duo, extracting solid purchase from a helpful Pune pitch, kept asking tough questions to Agarwal and Rohit. While Philander, with his full length and late movement, tested the footwork and application of Agarwal and Rohit, Rabada, with his sheer pace and in-between lengths, tested the openers’ judgement.

With the ball seaming around there were a few chances but Rohit and Agarwal seemed like they had things under control before Rabada (3/48), exceptional throughout the day, dismissed the former with a peach. The wicket was a just reward for his and Philander’s relentless accuracy.

Agarwal was happy to concede the stage to Philander and Rabada in that probing opening hour before slowly taking charge of his innings. Like in Visakhapatnam where he picked the spinners apart for special treatment, here he laid siege to debutante pacer Anrich Nortje and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.

Both Nortje and Maharaj released all the pressure created by Philander and Rabada by bowling rubbish lines and lengths and Agarwal made it count. He used his feet well to Maharaj while Nortje, who either bowled too full or too short, was driven and cut with elan.

Together with Cheteshwar Pujara (58, 112b, 9x4, 1x6), with whom he shared a crucial 138-run partnership for the second wicket, Agarwal and India motored at a fair clip in the second session. 

With the sky turning grey and threat of rain looming, Agarwal hit top gear right after tea to complete his ton. He cracked Maharaj for back to back sixes — both audaciously charging down the ground and hitting him straight over — and then slashed a Philander teaser for a boundary to lift his arms in elation.

South Africa needed some magic to dismiss Agarwal and Rabada, for the third time in the day, provided that. He drew Agarwal forward with an excellent delivery, the ball taking an edge and Faf du Plessis completing a good catch.

Conditions were overcast at that stage and with nearly 29 overs left for the day, India knew they still had lots of work left. Kohli and Rahane did just that. While Kohli was busy right from the start, picking up singles and then finding a boundary at regular intervals, Rahane found it hard at the beginning. South Africa strangled Rahane but he slugged it out tenaciously.

Skipper Du Plessis even took the new ball in hope of finding a couple of later breakthroughs but Kohli and Rahane stood still. Play was called off a tad early due to bad light and given India’s long tail and how challenging the conditions are, much will rest upon the shoulders of Kohli and Rahane on Friday.

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