MUMBAI (Reuters) – India opener Mayank Agarwal hit a gritty hundred to rescue the hosts after New Zealand left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel had put them in a spot of bother with three quick wickets on the weather-hit first day of the second and final test on Friday.
Agarwal remained unbeaten on 120 after completing his fourth test hundred to help India reach 221 for four wickets at stumps with wicketkeeper-batter Wriddhiman Saha keeping him company on 25 not out at the Wankhede Stadium.
Mumbai-born Patel, whose parents immigrated to New Zealand in 1996, picked up all four wickets on a track aiding the spinners to finish with figures of four for 73.
After the first session was wiped out due to a wet outfield, Agarwal and Shubman Gill gave their side a solid start with an opening stand of 80 following captain Virat Kohli’s decision to bat having won the toss.
Patel gave New Zealand the breakthrough by dismissing Gill for 44 when the batter edged a delivery to the lone slip.
The 33-year-old Patel returned in his next over to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli before they had opened their accounts, much to the disappointment of the few hundreds present at the ground which overlooks the Arabian Sea.
Kohli, who returned to the side to lead India after being rested for the three-match Twenty20 series and the first test in Kanpur, reviewed the leg before wicket decision unsuccessfully and trudged off after a chat with the on-field umpires.
Television replays were inconclusive in showing if he had hit the ball before Patel’s delivery struck his pad.
From 80 for no loss, India were reduced to 80-3 and it was left to Agarwal and Shreyas Iyer, who made a dream test debut in Kanpur with a first-innings 105 followed by a crucial 65 in the second, to launch the fightback for the hosts.
The duo added 80 for the fourth wicket to rebuild the innings before Iyer fell on 18 to become Patel’s fourth scalp.
“Obviously this is kind of what dreams are made of,” Patel told reporters. “So to be out here (in Mumbai) and to go out there and pick up four wickets in the first day, it’s pretty special.
“At the same time the job is only half done, so we’ve got to make sure we turn up tomorrow and then really work hard for the last six wickets.”
‘EXTRA SPECIAL’ CENTURY
The dismissal brought Agarwal and Saha together and the pair defied New Zealand’s bowlers for the rest of the day with an unbroken partnership of 61.
A square-driven four off seamer Daryl Mitchell took Agarwal to three figures and the 30-year-old leapt and punched the air to celebrate his first test hundred since he scored a career-best 243 against Bangladesh in 2019.
The right-handed batter hit 14 fours and four sixes in his knock.
“It’s an amazing feeling to get a century in test cricket and to get it in Wankhede is extra special,” said Agarwal. “It’s going to be very important, how we start (tomorrow) is crucial, the focus is that.
“The first session we want to play it out, the wicket is going to get harder and harder to bat on.”
Both sides were dealt injury blows before the test with the tourists losing captain Kane Williamson to an elbow problem while the hosts lost Ajinkya Rahane, who led the side in Kanpur in Kohli’s absence, Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma.
The opening test ended in a thrilling draw, with New Zealand’s last batting pair hanging on in the final session to deny the hosts a victory.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Rohith Nair)