Centurion: Continuing his brilliant batting form, India opener Mayank Agarwal made the most of his opportunity on Sunday when he scored an impressive half-century on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test match against South Africa in Centurion. In absence of senior pro-Rohit Sharma, Mayank formed a new opening pair for Team India along with newly-appointed Test vice-captain KL Rahul. The 30-year-old played a solid knock of 60 in the first innings of the series opener between India and South Africa to help the visitors start on a strong note.

Eyeing his maiden Test hundred on foreign soil, Mayank’s stay in the middle was cut short by Proteas pacer Lungi Ngidi who bowled a brilliant nip-backer to dismiss the Indian opener. Asking for a review immediately, Mayank’s hopes were dashed as the ball tracking showed that the delivery was crashing into the top of the off-stump. Interestingly, the option of umpire’s call was not considered by the third umpire that irked many cricket fans who felt that it was going down the leg side.

The decision went in South Africa’s favour as it brought an end to the 117-run stand between Rahul and Mayank. Addressing the media at the end of day 1’s play, Mayank refused to read much into his dismissal and gave a witty response to the query. The batter said: “I am not allowed to give my opinion and so I want to leave it at that. Otherwise, I will be in bad books and my money (match fee) could be docked.”

Meanwhile, Rahul and Mayank became the third Indian opening pair to stitch a 100-run stand in a match in South Africa, joining the likes of Wasim Jaffer & Dinesh Karthik and Gautam Gambhir & Virender Sehwag. Hailing fellow opener and vice-captain Rahul for getting a hundred on day one of the first Test, Mayank termed it “highlight for the team”. He also hoped that Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane put up a big partnership on day two. India ended day one on 272/3 with Rahul carrying his bat through the day to stay unbeaten on 122 while Rahane was unconquered on 40.

“I think the highlight for us as a team is Rahul getting a big hundred. But the crucial point for us is getting partnerships. We got good partnerships, first up. Then, with Virat and KL and then Ajinkya and KL, I hope they can continue the same. Knitting partnerships and making them bigger and bigger is the key, is also the highlight for us as a team today,” said Agarwal.

Talking about Rahul’s stunning century, Agarwal felt his willingness to bat for long after being set stood out. “As someone who’s watching him closely, I think he really understands where his off-stump is. He is really getting into the line of the ball and he’s playing really well. He’s very disciplined with his game plan and his mindset. He’s looking to bat sessions and looking to bat through whenever he gets set.”

The Bengaluru-born, who played a crucial role in building an opening stand of 117 while making 60, revealed the conversations he had with head coach Rahul Dravid on playing in South African conditions. “The conversations were about being very disciplined. He was very clear in saying that when you especially play in South Africa and other countries, you will not look very good but it’s not about looking good or not looking good. It is all about sticking to your plans, being disciplined, and waiting for your opportunities to score. We were thinking around those lines and I am glad we could do well in the first session.”