Enhancing his reputation with each passing Test, Mayank Agarwal hit his second ton on the first morning of the second Test at Pune. Continuing from where he left off in Visakhapatnam, Agarwal hit 16 fours and two sixes to bring up his fifth 50+ score in the six Tests he has played so far.
Assisted by half-centuries from Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, India ended the day at 273/3 with Kohli (63*) and Ajinkya Rahane (18*) at the crease as the play was stopped due to bad light after 85.1 overs.
On a pitch green enough to encourage pacers, both teams added an additional seamer in their XI. While India opted to replace a batsman in Hanuma Vihari with Umesh Yadav, South Africa dropped the offie Dane Piedt for the debutant Anrich Nortje.
In the conditions favouring fast bowlers early on, the experienced red-ball campaigners Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada tested Rohit Sharma and Agarwal. Philander, in particular, foxed the duo on the both sides of the edge, including a close leg-before shout against Agarwal. While they tested the two batsmen, the bowlers struggled to find the right lengths consistently to induce false shots.
Similar to the first Test, the odd chance offered through a genuine edge pierced the gap in the field, this time between third slip and gully of Agarwal off Rabada. Two overs later, Rabada, with only three wickets in India before this Test, got one to nip back at Rohit from a good length. Forced to play at it, Rohit nicked it to Quinton De Kock giving Rabada his first wicket of the match.
Nortje, brought in at first change in the ninth over, clocked 148 kmph+ straight away. He induced another outside edge of Agarwal that fell short of the keeper. Pujara too offered a chance early on as he hit one off Rabada from back of a length straight to Temba Bavuma at short-leg who could not hold on to it.
The 15th over of the Indian innings broke the shackles as Agarwal hit Nortje, erring on the fuller side, for three eye-catching boundaries. Playing with a delightfully straight bat, he hit Nortje through mid-on, cover and extra-cover. The pair in complete control after the slightly shaky start continued to make merry as the South Africa pace attack continued their struggle to find a consistent length.
Even the spinners could not provide respite to the visitors as Pujara hit Keshav Maharaj for two boundaries in his first over, as the duo added fifty at the stroke of lunch.
Post lunch, South Africa continued their strategy from the first Test to open the session with Maharaj and Philander, a tactic employed post-tea as well. While there was a clear indication of the pitch assisting the seamers, the choice of the bowlers by South Africa post a break was baffling. Pujara, strong on his back foot, hit a boundary each of Philander and Maharaj off the cut. Another cut off Maharaj brought about Agarwal’s half-century.
Modifying strategies a bit, Nortje in his second spell peppered the pair with short balls. While Pujara ducked those in his usual almost callous fashion, Agarwal, probably used to Nortje’s pace from their clash during the game between the A-teams, hooked him twice for four – once behind square-leg and once in front.
Senuran Muthusamy, brought in the 46th over was taken off in two overs as Pujara pulled him with disdain for six and later by Mayank for four. Back to back fours in the same over off Maharaj guided Pujara to his half-century.
Coming off an aggressive 81 in the last Test, Pujara was particularly fluid in this game. Rabada, into his third spell, was cut for another four by Pujara but managed to have the last laugh as he induced an outside edge off Pujara that instead of piercing a gap, went straight to Faf du Plessis.
As the two batsmen before him, Kohli too offered a chance early on – this time a return catch to Maharaj that went whizzed past his hands before he could feel the leather.
Post-Tea, Agarwal shifted to top gear as he moved from 87 to 103 in four balls. Hitting Maharaj for consecutive sixes, he cut Philander to notch up his century.
Rabada doubled his tally of wickets in India before this Test in this first over of his fourth spell. Caught on the crease, Agarwal edged a drive to Du Plessis as Rabada picked up his third wicket.
The Kohli-Rahane partnership started on a defensive note as the duo played five maiden overs of the first 11 overs of their partnership. Nortje, once again provided some relief with boundary balls in-between the maiden overs.
A tiring Maharaj who bowled 29 consecutive overs and part-time support from Muthusamy and Dean Elgar, helped India add 30 runs in the last eight overs leading up to the new ball.
Virat Kohli provided a display of immaculate batsman-ship against the new ball. Hitting Philander for two fours on both sides of the wicket in the first over, Kohli brought about his 23rd Test half-century. Kohli, who averages more than a 100 against Philander, hit him for another glorious cover drive three overs later. On the first ball of the 86th over, Rahane, who continued at his defensive pace, unconvincingly pulled a short ball for four of Rabada as umpires decided to intervene and conclude the day’s play.
After adding 24 runs in the 5.1 overs off the new ball, Kohli has made his approach clear. Moving into the second day, South Africa would wish for a better display of consistent lengths from their pacers to halt India’s progress. Playing a batsman short, India too will expect their captain and vice-captain to take them to a sizeable first innings total.