Melbourne: India rode on excellent half-centuries from debutant Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara to reach a commanding 215/2 at stumps on the opening day of the crucial Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here on Wednesday.
Cheteshwar Pujara was batting on 68 while skipper Virat Kohli was on 47 at the other end when the umpires dislodged the bails for the day. They put together an unbeaten third wicket stand of 92 runs after the new look opening pair of Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari gave the visitors a slow but steady start.
With the four-Test series currently locked at 1-1, the tourists couldn't have asked for a better start to the third game after winning the toss and electing to bat on a docile MCG track.
Resuming the third and final session at 123/2, Pujara and Kohli wrested control of the proceedings even as the Australian speedsters maintained a hostile line, coupled with star off-spinner Nathan Lyon's miserly spells.
While Pujara continued to flourish in his trademark fashion and eventually reached his 21st Test fifty, Kohli kept the scorers busy by stealing the odd singles and converting some of those into a couple.
Towards the end of the day's proceedings, left-arm pacer Mitchell Starc gave India a scare when he almost had Kohli caught behind, only for skipper Tim Paine to drop his counterpart, three shy of his 20th Test half-century.
Earlier, Pujara helped to lay the foundation for a stellar first innings total when he was involved in another big partnership -- an 83-run second-wicket stand with rookie opener Mayank Agarwal, who shone with a brilliant 76.
Mayank and his makeshift opening partner Hanuma Vihari (8) started the proceedings with a 40-run opening stand before the latter was undone by a short delivery from Pat Cummins that ended in a simple catch to Aaron Finch at second slip.
Mayank however, continued to play well within himself, but did not hold back from his natural strokeplay when the opportunity presented itself.
The Karnataka right-hander milked Lyon for a few boundaries and did well to escape several nasty bouncers from the hostile Aussie pacers before eventually getting to his maiden Test half-century.
With Pujara giving him company, the rookie couldn't have found a better partner at the non-striker's end, but inexperience finally led to his undoing him when he failed to fend another short-pitched ball from Cummins to be caught behind just at the stroke of tea.
From there on, it was the Kohli-Pujara show that yielded 92 unbeaten runs -- the highest of the series so far -- which could pinch the Australians, especially on a track which could deteriorate as the match progresses.
India 215/2 (Mayank Agarwal 76, Cheteshwar Pujara 68 batting, Virat Kohli 47 batting; Pat Cummins 2/40) vs Australia at stumps on Day 1.
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