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Indian batsmen grind down Australia on Boxing Day

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26th December, 2018
14

India yesterday exploited a dead MCG pitch to bat themselves into a commanding position on day one of the Boxing Day Test.

Led by debutant opener Mayank Agarwal, who made a fluent 76, the tourists batted with fine patience to grind their way to 2-215 at stumps, with captain Virat Kohli (47*) and first drop Cheteshwar Pujara (68*) at the crease.

India must have counted themselves as fortunate to have survived a sensational period of bowling with the second new ball by Mitchell Starc.

The tall left-armer has had a poor year in Tests and was ordinary with the first new ball yesterday. But just before stumps he produced his most skilful spell in some time to work over Kohli. In the space of two overs Starc skimmed Kohli’s off stump, had the Indian inside edging a perfect yorker and had him dropped by Tim Paine who dived low to his right.

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Earlier in the final session Kohli had pushed with hard hands at a delivery from Josh Hazlewood, yet the resulting edge dropped miles short of first slip in an indication of the lack of pace in the pitch.

MCG curator Matt Page must have had his heart in his mouth for much of day one as the pitch slowly squeezed from this series the thrilling energy that had built up over the first two Tests.

Those two matches both were highly engaging from day one onwards thanks, in a large part, to decks which provided plenty of help for the bowlers. By comparison, the MCG pitch offered the bowlers next to nothing yesterday, evoking memories of last year’s borefest draw against England which earned the Melbourne surface damning criticism from the ICC.

Cricket analysts CricViz reported that this current MCG pitch offered even less help to the quicks than did the infamous WACA Test pitch of three summers ago when Ross Taylor scored 290 and David Warner 253.

Even Australian spinner Nathan Lyon, in the form of his life with 16 wickets in the first two Tests, was neutered by this Melbourne surface. The only Australian bowler who looked consistently threatening was seamer Pat Cummins. The young quick has arguably the best bouncer in world cricket and made the only two breakthroughs of the day with short balls.

First Cummins got rid of Hanuma Vihari, who had moved up from the middle order to open in this Test. Vihari blunted the new ball but never built any momentum, eventually dismissed for 8 from 66 balls as he tried to evade a Cummins lifter and gloved it to second slip.

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That brought to the crease Pujara, who once more batted with a sense of calm and patience which Australia could not disturb. He was a fine foil for the more cavalier Agarwal. The first-gamer was organised in defence, punished the quicks when they overpitched, and displayed swift and assured footwork against Lyon. On the evidence of that innings, Agarwal looks a great prospect for India.

Like Vihari, his innings ended when he gloved a short ball from Cummins. Kohli then made a dashing start to his innings, sprinting to 24 from 24 balls before the Aussies reeled him in with some disciplined bowling. The home seamers adopted a sixth-stump line to Kohli to try to coax him into wafting at these wide deliveries.

Virat Kohli celebrates taking a wicket.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

This strategy kept Kohli quiet and also nearly earned his wicket, with one edge flying through a vacant second slip position and another edge landing in front of first slip. Then Starc peppered him with one of the best spells seen in this series to date.

What mattered in the end, though, was that Kohli remained unbeaten at stumps, poised to help his side pile up a huge score today.