Debutant Mayank Agarwal produced a confident 76-run knock before falling at the stroke of tea as India made a steady start to the third Test against Australia in Melbourne on Wednesday, reaching 215/2 at stumps.

Run-scoring wasn’t the quickest as the Indian batsmen largely remained cautious in the first two sessions before Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara got going with a bit more urgency in the final session.

Agarwal, handed Test debut after KL Rahul and Murali Vijay failed in the first two matches, repaid the faith shown in him by the team management with a confident half-century. He fell just before the tea break, caught down the leg side off Pat Cummins, who had dismissed make-shift opener Hanuma Vihari in the opening session. He added 83 runs for the second wicket with Pujara.

Australia concentrated on keeping runs at a minimum, with Nathan Lyon particular, bowling to a predominantly leg-side field. But Agarwal kept the scoreboard ticking after a watchful initial period, reaching his maiden Test half-century off 95 balls. Overall, he became the seventh Indian batsman to score a half-century on Test debut.

To their credit, Australia created chances in the latter half of the second and third sessions.

India won the toss and opted to bat on a docile pitch, putting its sixth opening pairing in 2018, and fifth in 11 overseas Tests this year.

But it proved effective as Vihari and Agarwal put on 40 runs after batting out 18.5 overs, India’s longest opening stand in terms of balls faced in Test cricket across Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa since December 2010 when Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had batted out 29.3 overs against the Proteas at Centurion.

The pitch looked to be a batting beauty early on but there were hints of variable bounce as the day went on. The Australian pacers had to bend their back to get the Kookaburra ball to rise sharply, with Cummins impressing the most, taking both the wickets to fall with well-directed bouncers.

Here are the statistical highlights from day one in Melbourne:

  • Agarwal fell two runs short of scoring the most runs for an Indian opener making his debut away from home. He will now look to emulate Sunil Gavaskar’s feat of scoring a half century in both innings on debut in an away Test.

Openers' top scores for India on debut (away)

Player Runs (Innings in the match) Opposition Ground
Sudhir Naik 77 (3rd) v England Birmingham, July 1974
Mayank Agarwal 76 (1st) v Australia Melbourne, December 2018
Sunil Gavaskar 67* (4th) v West Indies Port of Spain, March 1971
Sunil Gavaskar 65 (2nd) v West Indies Port of Spain, March 1971
Vinoo Mankad 63 (3rd) v England Lord's, June 1946
Lalchand Rajput 61 (3rd) v Sri Lanka Colombo (SSC), August 1985

  • This was also the joint 8th highest score for a visiting cricketer making his debut in a Test in Australia.
  • Agarwal became only the second Indian to make a 50-plus score on Test debut Down Under after Dattu Phadkar (51) at SCG in December 1947

Indian batsmen making their debut in Australia

Player Runs (Innings in the match) Ground
Mayank Agarwal 76 (1st) Melbourne, Dec 2018
Dattu Phadkar 51 (1st) Sydney, Dec 1947
Hrishikesh Kanitkar 45 (4th) Melbourne, Dec 1999
Syed Abid Ali 33 (2nd) Adelaide, Dec 1967
Syed Abid Ali 33 (4th) Adelaide, Dec 1967

  • The innings continued the fine form that Agarwal has displayed in first class cricket for a couple of years now.

  • Interestingly, this was only the second time in India’s history that a debutant was opening the batting Down Under. And with Vihari never having opened the innings for India, it meant two “new openers” played for India for the first time in a Test match since 1936.

  • There was a quirky coincidence for Agarwal too.

  • As vital as the opening stand between Vihari and Agarwal was, it continued the trend of India’s first wicket partnership away from Asia being dismissed before 20 overs in a Test. The last time that happened was in 2010.

  • It was only the second instance in 11 overseas Tests this year that Virat Kohli was yet to arrive at the crease with 100-plus runs on the scoreboard. The first instance was in Nottingham during the second innings against England.
  • On a day he scored his third fifty-plus knock in this series, Pujara set himself a new milestone away from Asia.

  • It was only the fourth time in history that fewer than two wickets were lost on the opening day of a Test at MCG.

  • And finally, there’s nothing quite like Boxing Day Test at MCG, is there? More than 70,000 in attendance — a record crowd for a match featuring India in Australia.

With PTI inputs