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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

India vs South Africa: Mayank Agarwal powers India to 273/3 on Day 1

Mayank Agarwal’s rich vein of form continued as he looked in complete command for his 108 off 195 balls, having made a sublime 215 in the series opener in Visakhapatnam last week

cricket Updated: Oct 10, 2019 20:35 IST
Indian cricketer Mayank Agarwal raises his bat after scoring a century during the second India-South Africa cricket test match at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, in Pune, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.
Indian cricketer Mayank Agarwal raises his bat after scoring a century during the second India-South Africa cricket test match at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, in Pune, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.(PTI)
         

There have been occasions in the past when an Indian side would get so upset at not getting their way in the preparation of the wicket while playing at home, that they would allow it to affect their performance. Precisely this happened in the year 2000 at the Wankhede Stadium against South Africa. And also in 2004, against Australia at Nagpur. Both those Tests were lost by India and, subsequently, the series.

Also Read: Aggressive Kagiso Rabada reaps his reward

Back in that era, the reasoning in the Indian camp was this: In away matches, you simply accept what you get. But, in home games there’s a natural sense of entitlement. You demand everyone to ensure India get to play to its strengths.

However, the attitude and approach of the current outfit has been refreshingly different.

On the eve of the Test match against South Africa, Virat Kohli and his players too seemed displeased with the colour of track at the Maharashtra Cricket Stadium. But, once they stepped on to the field on Thursday morning, there was no sign of those mental affectations in their performance on the first day of the second Test.

Powered by Mayank Agarwal’s second three-figure score of the series, the hosts finished the day on 273 for three after overcoming an impressive bowling effort from South Africa, led by Kagiso Rabada (3 for 48). Having scored a double hundred at Vishakapatnam, Agarwal thus emulated Virender Sehwag’s feat to become the second India opener to hit back-to-back hundreds against the Proteas, the former having achieved the feat in the 2009-10 series. Captaining India for the 50th time in Tests, Kohli himself hit an unbeaten half-century (batting 63, 10 fours) while Cheteshwar Pujara chipped in with a solid 58 (9 fours, 1 six).

CONFIDENT CALL

Each captain has his own way of leading his team; Kohli and his side are fast earning a reputation for their steel. The new India’s change in approach and mindset was there to see on the opening day of the second Test, starting with the captain, who now boasts of a phenomenal record of 29 wins against 10 defeats in 49 Tests.

Also Read: ‘Asked right-handers to bat left-handed’: Misbah snaps at Pak journalists

Kohli’s only defeat in 22 Tests at home has come at Pune, in the previous Test match here against Australia back in 2017. Back then, the wicket was termed poor for its unpredictable nature. Again the conditions were tough at the Pune Stadium. Even before play began, it looked like it would help the pacers thanks to a touch of green on the wicket. Yet, Kohli didn’t hesitate to bat first on winning the toss.

There was unexpected pace and bounce; the grass on the surface provided some seam movement; and further assisting the Proteas quicks was the cloud cover from the second session onwards. Vernon Philander even beat the bat regularly during a miserly spell of 7-1-8-0 with the new ball, while Rabada bowled 10 overs on a hot morning in a desperate effort to make the new ball count. But the mental toughness of Kohli’s team shone through.

There was no doubt in the India batsmen’s minds, irrespective of their respective weaknesses. The prime example was Agarwal, who is strong with his frontfoot play but has his set of limitations on the backfoot. South Africa tried to attack him with short stuff but he was up to the challenge. Even the early loss of opener Rohit Sharma was taken in their stride. Agarwal and Pujara soaked in all the pressure and built a strong base.

Also Read: Cheteshwar Pujara hits a six again and registers a unique first

Different leaders have different styles. Kohli’s success is built on not letting his players get into a comfort zone. He is not concerned about being a popular leader because he takes tough calls. Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin have been on the receiving end but have emerged as better players.Call it reverse psychology but it is working for Kohli. Pujara will vouch for how he has been forced to raise his game to cement his place in the middle-order. In any other team, after the kind of dream series that Pujara had against Australia, he could have felt comfortable with a couple of failures. But one could sense that the India No 3 was feeling the pressure when he was hit with a couple of failures on the recent tour of the West Indies.

At Vishakapatnam, after a scratchy start, Pujara dug deep and fought his way back with an 81 in the second innings. The result? His rhythm had returned and Pujara was back to his fluent self on Thursday.

AGARWAL EXCELS

Unlike Pujara, Agarwal needs no extra motivation. He is just trying to make up for lost time -- all those years he spent toiling in the domestic circuit, awaiting for his big chance. Now that that chance is here, he is making it count. After a double hundred in the first Test, the hunger for runs was on display once again.

Scratchy to start with, Agarwal grew in confidence; so confident that when he was in the 90s he struck two sixes and a four to get to his hundred. In the press conference Pujara even called Agarwal’s style of play as ‘fearless’. “He is an experienced player who has scored so many first-class runs, which has helped him a lot and when it comes to being nervous in his 90s.”

Also Read: Mayank joins Sehwag & Rohit in illustrious list with second Test ton

The standout feature of Agarwal’s hundred was his frontfoot drives against Anrich Nortje. Off Nortje’s bowling, Agarwal creamed three fours in one over, the 15th of the innings. By lunch, Agarwal had collected seven boundaries from 80 balls.

When Nortje resorted to a barrage of bouncers, with three men behind the crease for the catch, Agarwal took him on with a hook shot for four to finish with 16 fours and two sixes.

KOHLI’S CONSISTENCY

Most of all, it is Kohli’s own contributions with the bat which has helped the team to consistent success. When the captain came out to bat, it had grown overcast and the floodlights were on to make up for fading light.

Also, Rabada had his tail up and soon the South African spearhead ended the well-set Agarwal’s stay with India on 198. Kohli had a little bit of rebuilding to do. He dug in, playing an uncharacteristic innings in which he took 48 balls for his first four, which incidentally came off an overthrow. There was an uppish drive off spinner Keshav Maharaj (when batting on three), which had the fans in the stands gasping.

Also Read: Umesh Yadav replaces Hanuma Vihari, Kohli reveals reason behind move

Usually a fluent bat, Kohli played against his grain with the responsibility of the main batsman of the team. He wasn’t in control when he brought up his second boundary either -- a hook off Nortje. But his third boundary, in Nortje’s following over, was a trademark Kohli pull, getting right on top of the bounce. From there on the runs flowed, until he wisely decided to take the offer of bad light. India walked off while Rabada was operating with the second new ball, and the over will be completed on Friday -- when Kohli will resume with better light and greater confidence, thanks to the 63 runs under his belt.

First Published: Oct 10, 2019 17:19 IST

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