India 2 for 215 (Pujara 68*, Kohli 47*) v Australia
Definitive judgments should wait for another few days, but the early signs are that there has been no magical solution to the MCG's pitch problem. After the challenges of Adelaide, and especially Perth, this was a more docile affair for the batsmen, and India took advantage, moving to 2 for 215 on the back of a fine debut by Mayank Agarwal, followed up by solid work from Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli.
There was much interest in the toss, with 10 millimeters of grass left on the surface, enough to urge Tim Paine to consider bowling. But the coin fell India's way and Kohli opted to bat while noting the dryness underneath the top layer. The talk soon began as a number of deliveries with the new ball barely carried to Paine, Nathan Lyon was on by the eighth over, there were catchers in front of the wicket within the first hour, and a slip cordon of one inside Josh Hazlewood's first spell.
Australia's slim rewards went to the outstanding Pat Cummins, who transcended the conditions with hostile spells. He gave Hanuma Vihari, promoted to open the innings, a working over, before removing him with a poorly played short delivery, and ended Agarwal's impressive debut innings with another short ball fended down the leg side.
Laxman: Sometimes Pujara doesn't get credit for what he does
VVS Laxman and Brad Hodge praise Cheteshwar Pujara's focus and concentration, among other things
None of Australia's was poor - Mitchell Starc hit 150kph, Hazlewood challenged the outside edge and Mitchell Marsh provided 15 tight overs on his recall - and keeping India to a sedate scoring rate meant they were far from out of the contest. Towards the back end of the day, there was a fiery passage as Starc charged in with the second new ball, having Kohli dropped on 47 when an edge carried low to Paine's right. There are big chances, then there was this. It was a period when Kohli looked as close to being vulnerable as he ever does, and was kept on 47 for 24 balls before the close.
It is one thing being given conditions where batsmen should book in for bed and breakfast, and another to make sure you take advantage of them. There was a sense that India could be vulnerable, having completely changed their opening partnership. But while Vihari was not convincing, by the time he fended to slip, the early sting had already been take out of the day.
Agarwal, a batsman who has certainly bided his time to earn the chance, shaped up excellently in his first outing. He scored the first 17 runs in the innings that came off the bat, although the first boundary of the day came from an outside edge that just evaded Mitchell Marsh at gully. Like Vihari, he was not entirely comfortable against Cummins' short stuff, taking one on the back as he tried to duck, but was confident in his scoring options.
A brace of boundaries early in the afternoon session off Nathan Lyon took him to his half-century, and he later struck the first six of the match by lofting Lyon over long-on. Thoughts were turning towards the prospect of a century on debut when he gloved a short ball from Cummins down the leg side against what became the last ball before tea.
That meant Kohli walked in after the break, greeted by boos (Mitchell Marsh had also been booed by sections of the Melbourne crowd disappointed at Peter Handscomb's omission), and as is so often, he brought greater intent to the innings. He was at a run-a-ball early in his stay before settling into a pace more akin to the day's proceedings and becoming becalmed heading into stumps. Australia's bowlers tried to attack in him outside off, where he can occasionally be vulnerable - Hazlewood found the edge only for it fall well short of slip, and there was the late chance offered against Starc - but Kohli was alert whenever they strayed too straight.
Meanwhile, Pujara was Pujara, refusing to be moved out of his bubble. It wasn't an entirely comfortable innings, however, with the physio twice coming out when he got struck on the gloves. Just six boundaries came during his 200-ball stay, but he remained there to continue Australia's toil on the second day. Five innings into the series, he is already within touching distance of his most successful overseas tour.