Boxing Day Test: Mayank Agarwal’s 76 steers India to 123/2 by tea on day one
Mayank Agarwal scored the highest by an India debutant opener in Australia. © AFP

The debutant opener Mayank Agarwal allayed fears of another top-order wobble by batting his way to a confidence-coated half-century in his first innings in international cricket as India made good progress on the friendliest batting surface of the series. Agarwal’s 76 is the sixth score of 50 or more by an Indian Test debutant opener in their first innings, and the highest score by one making his debut in Australia.

It took a very good short ball from Pat Cummins to end his innings: on the stroke of tea, Agarwal nibbled a well-directed delivery off his ribs and was taken by Tim Paine down the leg side. For the first time in ages, Virat Kohli will walk out to bat after tea. That, whichever way you view it, is called progress.

Having led an opening stand of 40 in 18.5 overs – the longest any India opening pair has batted in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) countries since July 2011 – with Hanuma Vihari, the 27-year-old Agarwal progressed to a pleasing half-century on debut while adding 83 in 36 overs with Cheteshwar Pujara.

The MCG pitch, the subject of much speculation over the past few days, lived upto its reputation of being a batting beauty. This allowed India to make their comfortable progress of the series, each hour pushing Australia into desperation. To their credit, the bowlers did not concede easy runs on a very hot day. India scored 57 runs in the morning session and 70 between lunch and tea to reach 123/2 by the second interval. (LIVE SCORECARD: INDIA vs AUSTRALIA, MCG TEST)

Agarwal’s has been a long overdue selection and to the selectors’ credit, his skill and determination – albeit on an easy batting deck – made the pair who did the job in Adelaide and Perth appear like novices. Agarwal was positive, using his feet well and playing the quicks and Nathan Lyon with a straight bat. He got off the mark fourth ball with a push into the covers for three off Josh Hazlewood, then clipped him for three off the toes. His first boundary in Test cricket came via an outside edge off Mitchell Starc past gully, but the sight of Lyon settled him. In the offspinner’s first over, he slapped a drive into the covers. Later, Lyon floated it wider and Agarwal cracked another four with the panache of Virat Kohli. (LIVE UPDATES: INDIA vs AUSTRALIA, MCG TEST)

Agarwal hit a four off the first ball after and moved to his half-century on debut off 95 deliveries with a firmly struck boundary off Lyon back past the bowler. In the period from 38 to 44 he edged Hazlewood in front of the slips, was nearly bowled and smartly let a bouncer go by. Lyon moved around the stumps and Agarwal hit two fours of him to ease the nerves. His first six came off Lyon too, whom he advanced to and slapped over wide long-on with ease.

All this while, Pujara did what Pujara does. His judgement of when to leave and when to defend was astute, and having such a sound presence at the other end worked wonderfully for Agarwal. On 33, Pujara got an inside edge off Mitchell Marsh that ballooned towards gully where a diving Usman Khawaja just failed to get to.

Crease occupation was the need of the day and that is what Agarwal and Vihari did in the morning after Kohli opted to bat. Pushed into an unfamiliar and difficult task, albeit on a good batting deck, Vihari was more tentative, playing and missing at Starc early on. His first run came off his 25th ball faced, a punch down the ground for a sharp call for one. He felt for several balls outside off stump, and was clearly playing out an unfamiliar role. Cummins entered the attack and pinged a short ball into Vihari’s helmet, which necessitated a visit from India’s physio.

Not long after, Vihari was unable to get out of the way of a superbly directed bouncer from Cummins and offered a simple catch at second slip. Sixty-six balls for eight runs. Far from pretty, but in lasting that long Vihari gave India a handy platform.

Tea: India 123/2 (Agarwal 76) vs Australia