India's Mayank Agarwal
India's Mayank Agarwal (L) plays a shot as Australia's Tim Paine (C) and Usman Khawaja look on during day one of the third test match between Australia and India at the MCG in Melbourne, Australia, December 26, 2018. Image Credit: Reuters

Melbourne, Australia: Star batsmen Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara mastered a placid pitch to place India in a strong position at 215-2 after Wednesday's first day of play in the third cricket test against Australia.

Kohli was unbeaten on 47 at stumps with Pujara on 68 at Melbourne Cricket Ground and both appear well-placed to add to their tallies of hundreds this series on day two on a pitch offering precious little for the bowlers.

Australia had hoped the second new ball would bring wickets late in the day's play. World No.1-ranked batsman Kohli had a tense moment on 47 when he appeared to edge a low catch to Tim Paine off the bowling of Mitchell Starc, but the wicketkeeper was unable to grasp the difficult chance.

Middle-order batsman Travis Head said it was a tough day for the home side, especially after a late chance was grassed.

"It's a massive morning. Momentum can change so I don't think we're far away," Head said.

Kohli had won the toss and chosen to bat in sunny conditions on a pitch that had a covering of grass but offered little bounce for the pace bowlers.

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The state of the pitch will be carefully watched over the course of the match, after last year's Melbourne test match between Australia and England was a tame draw and the pitch was officially rated as "poor" by the International Cricket Council.

The four-test series is level at one-all. India has never won a test series in Australia.

Opener Mayank Agarwal scored a patient 76, the highest innings by an Indian test debutant in Australia, before gloving a short ball from Pat Cummins to Paine as tea was taken at 123-2.

Agarwal added 83 with Pujara, after the loss of Hanuma Vihari for eight at 40-1. Like Agarwal, Vihari had failed to handle a bouncer from Cummins, backing away and offering a simple catch to second slip.

It was a remarkable effort from Cummins, who claimed 2-40 from 19 overs after forcing both openers into false shots on a lifeless pitch.

"I wouldn't complain about the pitch," Agarwal said. "It was good to bat on. It was a bit slow and then as the day progressed . it got a little quicker. The longer we bat, the better it is for us," he said.

"They (Australia) bowled extremely well. They kept it tight and they were attacking."

Kohli's arrival at the crease for the start of the third session was greeted with loud booing at 123-2. Kohli's on-field clashes with Australia's captain Paine in the second test in Perth ensured sections of the first-day crowd of 73,516 in Melbourne would give Kohli an enthusiastic greeting.

Play was halted briefly when Pujara on 50 was struck on the right index finger by the fiery Cummins. Pujara's finger was taped before the batsman resumed at 174-2.

Pujara, the leading scorer in the series with 290 runs and, with Kohli, the only player to score a century this series, suffered another bruising blow on 57 when Cummins crashed a short ball into his shoulder.

But the boos weren't only for the touring team.

Pace-bowling all-rounder Mitch Marsh contributed 15 tight overs which cost only 23 runs but the West Australian at times was booed by Victorian fans who were upset their local hero Peter Handscomb had been dropped from the side. Head said the crowd's behaviour was disappointing.

"I don't think it's great," said Head, who praised Marsh as a "great team man". "I don't think any Australian cricketer in Australia deserves to be booed (at home). I understand it's a Victorian crowd. It's disappointing."


India first innings
M. Agarwal c Paine b Cummins 76
H. Vihari c Finch b Cummins 8
C. Pujara not out 68
V. Kohli not out 47
Extras (lb6, b10) 16
Total (two wickets, 89 overs) 215

To bat: Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah
Fall of wickets: 1-40 (Vihari), 2-123 (Agarwal)
Bowling: Starc 16-6-32-0, Hazlewood 18-6-45-0, Cummins 19-6-40-2, Lyon 21-4-59-0, Marsh 15-3-23-0

Australia: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc

Toss: India
Umpires: Marais Erasmus (RSA), Ian Gould (ENG)
TV umpire: Richard Kettleborough (ENG)
Match referee: Paul Wilson (AUS)