MELBOURNE • Powerhouse Indian pair Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli built on an impressive 76 from debutant Mayank Agarwal to pile pain on Australia in the crunch third Test yesterday.
On a docile, batsman-friendly Melbourne Cricket Ground wicket, India ground their way to 215 for two at stumps on the first day, with Pujara 68 not out and Kohli unbeaten on 47 as the bowlers toiled in hot conditions for little reward.
Pat Cummins was the pick of the attack, taking two for 40.
India came into the Boxing Day clash with a new pair of inexperienced openers after the misfiring Murali Vijay and K.L. Rahul were axed, suggesting a hint of panic as Kohli's men look to win their first-ever series in Australia.
But the exciting Agarwal rose to the challenge in front of 73,500 fans after India won an important toss and opted to bat on a pitch that is expected to deteriorate.
He stroked 76, the highest score by an Indian debutant in Australia, and was looking impregnable before Cummins had him caught behind by Tim Paine as he gloved the last ball before tea down the legside.
It brought Kohli to the crease to a huge roar from the large Indian contingent at the MCG, and he set about building an unbroken 92-run partnership with the ever-reliable Pujara.
"I'm happy. I would definitely take a 76 rather than something less than that. Saying that, I would have liked to have gone on and be there at the end of the day," said Agarwal.
"Honestly, I thought they bowled extremely well and didn't give us many loose balls. They kept it tight and they were attacking."
The four-Test series is tied 1-1 after India won the opening clash in Adelaide by 31 runs and Australia drew level with a 146-run victory in Perth.
Australia's Travis Head said this morning would be critical.
"It was a tough day at the office, grinding Test cricket. They batted well and we created pressure," he said. "We need to make sure we come back tomorrow morning and bowl the way we did today. Momentum can change and I don't think we're far away."
Meanwhile, banned Australian player Cameron Bancroft yesterday confirmed that it was David Warner who had asked him to alter the ball during the tampering scandal in South Africa and said he went along with it "to fit in".
Bancroft was seen using sandpaper to roughen the ball's surface in the Cape Town Test in March, receiving a nine-month ban from international and domestic cricket.
Warner and then captain Steve Smith were exiled for a year after all three were found to be involved.
Said Bancroft, whose ban runs out this weekend: "I just wanted to fit in and feel valued... The decision was based around my values, what I valued at the time, and I valued fitting in... I guess, there came a pretty big cost for the mistake."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS