Mumbai, Dec 3: Under pressure to prove his worth, Mayank Agarwal (120 batting, 246b, 14×4, 4×6) made the best statement possible with a superb hundred. The innings helped India recover from a sudden top-order collapse to reach 221 for four wickets in two extended opening day sessions against New Zealand in the second Test here Friday.
Agarwal is all but certain to sit out once Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul come back during the next series. However, he added to a happy headache for coach Rahul Dravid, on a day when vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane had to be ‘dropped’ because of a hamstring niggle.
Worse, Cheteshwar Pujara (0) and Virat Kohli (0) failed to trouble the scorers and the hundred by Mayank Agarwal came at a time when India were under pressure at 80 for three wickets. Had the Indian team management been forced to play Rahane, the axe was likely to fall on Agarwal. It’s never a great feeling to go out there in such a situation.
Agarwal was jittery to begin with as a streaky boundary through slips came early on. However, once he marched down the track to loft Ajaz Patel (4/73) for a straight six, his nerves vanished. It was incidentally Agarwal’s fourth hundred in Tests.
Patel was by far the best New Zealand bowler in view, having reduced India from 80 for no loss to 80 for three. However he did look pedestrian in front of Agarwal at times.
When an airborne Agarwal punched the air after a square driven boundary off part-time seamer Daryl Mitchell, one could sense that pressure weighing a thousand tonne must have come off his chest.
Agarwal was the first choice opener during the England series but before the first game, he got hit on the head. Friend KL Rahul coming in his place grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
With Rohit also having his best overseas series as Test opener, Agarwal was confined to the reserves. He could again be back in the reserves but he made a statement of intent with his strokeplay as he dominated the 80-run fourth wicket stand with Shreyas Iyer (18).
Along with another reserve player in Wriddhiman Saha (25 batting, 53b, 3×4, 1×6), Agarwal added another 61 runs before the close of play.
New Zealand had erred in not playing Neil Wagner on a track where there was a lot of bounce on offer.
If Agarwal showed discretion, same couldn’t be said about Shubman Gill (44, 71b, 7×4, 1×6), who was dazzling till he was around in their 80-run opening stand before Patel snuffed him out. Gill looked fluent before paying for his impetuosity which led to a mini collapse.
Mumbai-born left-arm spinner Patel also picked up Pujara and Kohli in quick succession with both failing to trouble the scorers. Incidentally he became the second Mumbai-born cricketer after legendary England captain Douglas Jardine to play against India in his city of birth. He altered the length cleverly and the extra bounce, which is always a speciality of Wankhede Stadium, helped him immensely.
He had Gill on the mat when he flighted one to entice him to come out and the ball turned and jumped. However, keeper Tom Blundell made a hash of a stumping. However, the very next ball saw Patel shorten the length as Gill tried jabbing at it and it turned enough to take the outside edge into Ross Taylor’s palms.
Pujara’s confidence has hit nadir after too many failures and he survived a DRS appeal from New Zealand before he jumped down the track to york himself. Patel, very wisely, fired one with an angle straight into his toes and what happened with Pujara often happens with out-of-form batters.
For skipper Kohli, it was a delivery that straightened after pitching as the Indian skipper tried to play a forward defensive stroke. Umpire Anil Chaudhary gave him out and Kohli immediately asked for a review. The replay was inconclusive on whether it hit the bat first or pad and as per rule, TV umpire Virender Sharma went with his on-field colleague, leaving Kohli absolutely livid. Kohli had a word with leg umpire Nitin Menon and was seen expressing his displeasure.
Brief Scores: India (1st innings): India 221 for 4 (Mayank Agarwal 120 batting, Shubman Gill 44; Ajaz Patel 4/73).
Details to follow