Sydney: Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara scored half-centuries as India reached 177 for 2 at tea on day one of the fourth and final Test against Australia here on Thursday. At the Sydney Cricket Ground, Pujara was unbeaten on 61 runs, while captain Virat Kohli was batting on 23 not out, with the duo putting on 51 runs for the unbroken third wicket.
Post lunch, Agarwal and Pujara continued their second-wicket partnership to 116 runs. The duo put on an attacking show after the break, with their 100-run stand coming off 178 balls. Agarwal reached his second Test half-century off 96 balls, inclusive of two sixes against Nathan Lyon (1/47) as the two batsmen rotated strike well and kept the scoreboard ticking.
So much so, India were scoring at a run-a-minute at one stage before drinks, as 64 runs came in the first hour of play after lunch. Agarwal looked good for a hundred, but threw it away when he holed out in the deep off Lyon in the 34th over and walked back shaking his head at an unnecessary shot.
Kohli then walked out to boos for the fourth Test running, but got going immediately with an immaculate cover drive. Australia resorted to more conservative bowling and kept his scoring rate in check. But they had no response to Pujara’s grounding knock again, albeit with a different pace.
Another 44 runs were added in the second hour of play, with Pujara reaching his half-century off 134 balls, including three fours in an over from leg spinner Marnus Labuschagne (0/12) before the tea break.
In the morning, India were placed at 69 for 1 at lunch. This was after India won the toss and opted to bat. Senior off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin did not pass the fitness test this morning and was ruled out of the match.
The visitors then made two changes, with Lokesh Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav coming in for Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma. Australia too made two changes with Peter Handscomb and Marnus Labuschagne replacing Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh.
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood got the proceedings underway, with the Indian openers making a streaky start. Things did not change much for Rahul (9) despite missing the Melbourne Test, as he edged twice in the first four balls faced only for the ball to go to the boundary.
He did not last long, edging Hazlewood to first slip in the second over, and his nightmare run on this tour continued. This was the sixth opening pairing for India in 12 overseas Tests since January 2018, and the resultant opening partnership only averages 21.56 in 23 overseas innings. At the other end, Agarwal settled down and stroked a couple of cover drives. He looked solid in comparison to his Karnataka team-mate and along with Pujara, drove the Indian run-rate forward.
In a series where low scoring has been the norm, India were scoring at 4.29 per over in the first hour as they reached 46/1 at drinks. India crossed 50 shortly thereafter, with the duo bringing on their 50-partnership off 104 balls. Australia lost a DRS review in the 15th over, when Hazlewood had a loud shout against Pujara turned down. There was nothing on the snickometer with the ball coming off the batsman’s thighs.
The home side then resorted to run-saving tactics once again, and moved to a shorter length, targeting the batsmen’s bodies. Pujara was hit a couple of times, once on the head. Surprisingly Nathan Lyon only came on in the 22nd over — the latest he has bowled in any Indian innings this series. But he could not provide a breakthrough before lunch either.
The Indian cricketers wore black armbands as a mark of respect for Sachin Tendulkar’s coach Ramakant Achrekar who passed away in Mumbai on Wednesday. The Australian team also wore black armbands in respect for former Australia and New South Wales cricketer Bill Watson who passed away in December, before this Test.