Double delight for deadly Agarwal

Mayank Agarwal celebrates after completing his double-century on day two of India's opening Test against South Africa. PTI

Mayank Agarwal enjoyed the lavish feast an ordinary South African bowling attack spread out, scoring a sparkling double century, and spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja then lapped up the desserts gleefully as India bossed the proceedings for a second day running in the opening Test here on Thursday.

In complete control of his innings, barring the shot that brought about his dismissal against the run of play in the second session, Agarwal authored a stroke-filled 215 (371b, 23x4, 6x6) — his maiden Test century in his sixth Test.

Riding Agarwal’s heroics, Rohit Sharma's brilliant 176-run knock and some lusty hitting down the order, India declared their innings at a dominating 502/7 at the Dr YSR ACA-VDA Cricket Stadium, a total which now looks as monumental as the Eastern Ghats bordering the venue.

Agarwal and Rohit, both of whom looked in terrific touch on the opening day, meant business from the word go on the second morning too. Barring an edge off Rohit which Quinton de Kock grassed and a slight mix-up between the openers — a wayward throw from the deep saving Rohit — the duo oozed class throughout.

After seeing off Vernon Philander, the only bowler to cause some problems for the duo, and Kagiso Rabada, they simply took apart the two South African spinners — offie Dane Piedt and part-time left-armer Senthuran Muthuswamy. Conventional sweeps, calculated reverse sweeps and audacious lofted shots down the ground, both Agarwal and Rohit kept producing a boundary almost every single over as Indians sped along like a freight train in the morning session.

Agarwal and Rohit went on to post the highest partnership for any Indian wicket against South Africa and in the mood they were in, they looked like shattering a plethora of records. But that wasn’t to be as Keshav Maharaj outfoxed Rohit after being carted for a 6 and 4, their stand coming to and end at 317.

Agarwal took charge from therein. He had a perfect ally in Virat Kohli at the other end, the skipper looking busy from the start and ensuring the scoreboard ticked along briskly after the dismissal of Cheteshwar Pujara.

Agarwal stuck to his strengths, respecting Philander and Kagiso Rabada but laying siege on Maharaj, Piedt and Muthuswamy. He barely allowed the trio to settle into any sort of rhythm and with Piedt and Muthuswamy struggling to maintain decent lines and lengths, the Bengalurean was at his devastating best.

Agarwal, who struggled to break into the Indian side despite stunning domestic shows and is aware of how strong the competition is for spots, seemed determined to make a big one. Even after getting his century in the morning session itself, he barely let his concentration dip. Although the bowling was admittedly pedestrian, he didn’t take things for granted in the middle but pulled out the right shots every single time to make a solid statement of his hunger.

After getting past 200 with a single down the ground and seeing the red cherry like a football, Agarwal’s eyes lit up when Elgar doled out a gentle full toss. He attempted a mighty slog but Dane Piedt pulled off a brilliant catch in the deep to the shock of all.

The Indians then went in pursuit of 500 and as soon as they got there, skipper Kohli declared, giving around 90 minutes for his bowlers to rub salt into South Africa’s wounds.

Ashwin and Jadeja did just that, the former looking extremely dangerous with his incredible revolutions and wicked, dipping side-spin. Ashwin, a master in home conditions, got turn, bounce and caused confusion in the minds of South African batsmen with his quick pace too.

He castled Aiden Markram with a classical off-spinner’s ball that crashed through the batsman’s defences, then had Theunis de Bruyn caught exceptionally by Wriddhiman Saha before Jadeja uprooted nightwatchman Piedt’s stumps.

With the South African — reeling at 39/3 — confidence in tatters and the pitch deteriorating, both Ashwin and Jadeja will be looking to lay the foundation for a big win.

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