Mayank Agarwal’s classy century ensured that India ended Day 1 of the Mumbai Test against New Zealand on top. On a pitch that offered turn and bounce to the spinners, the Indian opener made an unbeaten 120 and helped his team recover well after a mini-collapse.
Ajaz Patel was the standout NZ bowler but he had little support from the rest of the bowling line-up on Friday and that would have disappointed stand-in skipper Tom Latham no end. The visitors had their chances but to be fair, they were far too inconsistent.
At close of play, India had reached 221/4 after 70 overs.
A wet outfield delayed the toss and eventually play only started after lunch. But there was enough conversation to be had even though there was no cricket being played and it all came down to the injured players. There was a huge question mark whether Ajinkya Rahane would play the Test ahead of Shreyas Iyer given the former’s recent form but as things turned out, the debate was not a fruitful one. Three Indian players pulled up injured for the game – Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja. NZ skipper Kane Williamson’s elbow injury flared up and he missed the match too.
The big debate on social media, though, was whether Rahane was truly injured or whether he was being allowed to take the easy way out. The vice-captain has been one of India’s go-to players away from home and with the South Africa tour coming up, he would have still been in the mix but a failure at Mumbai would have added to the pressure.
The injury will allow him and perhaps the team management to take stock of where his game truly stands.
When play eventually began, Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill played with calm assurance in the middle. It helped that the NZ pacers weren’t getting too much movement.
There were a few edges but runs came along at an even keel. Patel was getting some turn too but the Indian batters seemed comfortable in the middle. There were some visible cracks on the pitch and batting last would not be easy.
The opening partnership moved swimmingly along to 80 when India suffered a mini collapse. Patel came to the party and removed Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli in quick time.
The dismissals of Gill and Pujara didn’t invite much debate but the manner in which Kohli was given out will get many bar-room conversations going.
The ball was very close to bat and pad and the TV umpire eventually went with the on-field umpire’s decision. Replays seems to suggest that Kohli edged it before it hit the pads and the Indian skipper was not a happy man as he walked off the field.
Controversy aside, the three wickets meant that India were suddenly in a spot of bother and they needed the remaining batters to put in a solid performance.
This is where Agarwal raised his game. Patel had given nothing away but the India opener responded to the wickets by hitting the left-arm orthodox bowler for a six and a four. The shots just allowed Iyer that little bit more space to settle in.
In the session: 111 runs, 3 wickets, 37 overs.
Agarwal found a higher tempo to his innings no doubt but the manner in which he left the ball was also very impressive. He wasn’t pushing at the deliveries but instead kept the bat close to his pads. That was the big difference between the uncertain Agarwal we saw in the first Test and the one we saw in Mumbai.
It would have also pleased coach Rahul Dravid and the rest of the team management to see how he took responsibility after India lost those three quick wickets. He chose to counterattack and on a pitch that was offering turn and bounce, it was a crucial decision.
As the innings progressed, we saw why Agarwal averages over 90 in India. He isn’t afraid to take on the spinners and finds ways to put the pressure back on them.
Agarwal lost his opening slot to his close friend KL Rahul and hasn’t quite looked the same batter since. But this was the kind of innings that will give him great confidence going forward.
A fine partnership of 80 with Iyer was followed up with an unbeaten stand of 61 runs for the fifth wicket with Wriddhiman Saha.
Agarwal’s celebrations after he reached the century mark showed how much the innings meant to him and he was still there in the middle at the end of the day. Saha was also playing another fine hand lower down the order.
In the session: 33 overs, 110 runs, 1 wicket.