Opener Mayank Agarwal continued his rich vein of form with a solid unbeaten 86 as India comfortably reached 168 for two at tea on the opening day of the second Test against South Africa here.
The first two sessions of the match panned out similar to the way the first Test went as India, leading 1-0 in the series, looked to out-bat the Proteas on a good surface, conducive for stroke-players.
The highlight of the day was Agarwal’s approach against fast bowling and Cheteshwar Pujara‘s (58 off 112 balls) perfect technique while tackling the spinners.
The duo added 138 runs for the second wicket with minimum fuss despite India losing Rohit Sharma’s (14) wicket in the first hour itself.
This was Agarwal’s fourth half-century in Test cricket and in his 171-ball knock, he has so far struck 15 fours.
The South African bowlers hit better lengths during the first session, especially Kagiso Rabada (2/39 in 13 overs), who got first Test hero Rohit (14 off 35 balls). Rabada bowled a beautiful delivery that pitched on length and moved only a shade to kiss the outside edge of Rohit’s bat before going into wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock’s gloves.
Rabada was unlucky to miss out on a second wicket — of Pujara — when Temba Bavuma, at short leg, missed a reflex catch. The batsman was yet to get off the mark at that stage.
He finally got Pujara, caught at first slip but not before the India No.3 had scored his 22nd Test half-century.
During the first hour, Agarwal was all cautious against Vernon Philander and Rabada bowled a probing first spell.
The 28-year-old Agarwal was smart enough to wait for the third seamer in rookie Anrich Nortje (0/46 in 10 overs) to be introduced into the attack.
Nortje was clearly the fastest of the trio of pacers and Agarwal started with a streaky boundary between the slips but soon got into the groove with a number of boundaries through the off-side.
Nortje, with his pace, was guilty of bowling fuller deliveries at a drivable length outside the off-stump.
In fact, Dale Steyn’s twitter advice “Use that short leg”, was meant for Nortje, advising him to alter the length.
In one of his overs before lunch, Agarwal hit an off-drive followed by two cover drives.
In the post lunch session, Nortje tried to hit the back of length but Agarwal had already completed his half century and was well set. The moment Nortje pitched it short, he went back and across to play a couple of pull shots.
On the other hand, Pujara began on a cautious note and it was only after left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj (0/51 in 17 overs) was brought into the attack, the Saurashtra right-hander upped the ante.
In his very first over, he used his feet to come to the pitch of the deliveries, hitting two elegant on-drives. A third on-drive also came along the way off Rabada’s bowling.
Watching Pujara use his feet against Maharaj, Agarwal got the confidence in the post-lunch session despite being beaten by a couple of classical left-armer’s deliveries, which pitched on the leg and middle stumps and turned away for the right-hander.
He completed his half-century off 112 balls with a cut shot.
Pujara, on the other end, hit first six off the match when Senuran Muthusamy provided a half-tracker that was dispatched into the deep square leg stands.
He completed his half-century with a cut shot off Maharaj that raced to the boundary. He was out soon after, missing out on a three-figure mark which was there for the taking.