PUNE: Mayank Agarwal hit his second century in successive matches on a truncated opening day of the second Test against South Africa on Thursday.
The opener, who made a double century in India’s opening Test win, scored 108 after the hosts elected to bat at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune.
India were 273-3 when bad light forced an early end to play, with skipper Virat Kohli unbeaten on 63 and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane on 18.
Kohli and Rahane put on 75 runs for the fourth wicket to thwart South Africa’s determined bowlers who kept them under pressure as the gloom crept in.
Agarwal, 28, said he was thrilled with his performance, while saying his side should aim for a 500-run first innings.
“The team is in a good position, winning the toss, batting first and with one batsman short, it’s a good thing to make runs... 450-500 would be nice,” Agarwal said. “Try and get big runs in the first innings... [that] could help us in case we don’t want to bat again. It could really put pressure on the South Africans.”
Kohli, leading the Test side for the 50th time, reached his half-century with a boundary off fast bowler Vernon Philander.
But Agarwal took the lead role despite being hit on the helmet from a bouncer by debutant paceman Anrich Nortje. He went on to hit Nortje for three glorious off drives in one over before lunch.
The right-handed batsman put on 138 runs for the second wicket with Cheteshwar Pujara, who made 58, to steady the innings after the fall of Rohit Sharma early in the day.
He was eventually caught in the slips by South African captain Faf du Plessis — one of fast bowler Kagiso Rabada’s three wickets for the day.
“There were periods where I was getting boundaries very easily, there were periods where they bowled very good line and lengths and were testing the bouncer as well,” said Agarwal, who is playing his sixth Test since making his debut last year.
Rabada also claimed Sharma, who edged the ball into the gloves of wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock for 14 in the 10th over.
That was a disappointment for Sharma, who hit twin centuries in his first run as Test opener in Visakhapatnam where India took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Rabada struck again to get Pujara, caught again by du Plessis, just before tea. Pujara, who was dropped by Temba Bavuma before he scored, hit a six and nine fours.
Rabada returned figures of 3-48 in 18.1 overs.
India made one change, bringing in pace bowler Umesh Yadav in place of batsman Hanuma Vihari. Yadav last played a Test at Perth in December 2018 during India’s tour of Australia.
South Africa, meanwhile, left out off-spinner Dane Piedt to bolster their pace attack by including Nortje.
Victory for India in the series will see them beat the record of 10 straight home series wins they share with Australia.
INDIA (1st Innings):
M.A. Agarwal c du Plessis b Rabada 108
R.G. Sharma c de Kock b Rabada 14
C.A. Pujara c du Plessis b Rabada 58
V. Kohli not out 63
A.M. Rahane not out 18
EXTRAS (LB-6, NB-6) 12
TOTAL (for three wkts, 85.1 overs) 273
FALL OF WKTS: 1-25, 2-163, 3-198.
TO BAT: W.P. Saha, R.A. Jadeja, R. Ashwin, U.T. Yadav, I. Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
BOWLING (to-date): Philander 17-5-37-0; Rabada 18.1-2-48-3 (4nb); Nortje 13-3-60-0; Maharaj 29-8-89-0; Muthusamy 6-1-22-0 (2nb); Elgar 2-0-11-0.
SOUTH AFRICA: A.K. Markram, D. Elgar, T.B. de Bruyn, T. Bavuma, F. du Plessis, Q. de Kock, S. Muthusamy, V.D. Philander, K.A. Maharaj, A. Nortje, K. Rabada.
UMPIRES: C.B. Gaffaney (New Zealand) and N.J. Llong (England).
TV UMPIRE: R.K. Illingworth (England).
MATCH REFEREE: R.B. Richardson (West Indies).
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019