India's Cheteshwar Pujara plays a defensive shot with Mayank Agarwal at the non-striker's end on the first morning in Sydney
Sydney (AFP) - Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara built a solid 59-run partnership as India battled to 69 for one at lunch on the opening day of the decisive fourth and final Test Thursday.
The visitors lead the series 2-1 after winning the opening clash in Adelaide and the third one in Melbourne. Australia claimed victory in Perth.
If India, the world’s top-ranked nation, win or draw in Sydney they will clinch a first-ever series in Australia since first touring Down Under in 1947-48.
Captain Virat Kohli once again won the toss with KL Rahul back in the team to open with Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari dropping down to number six to cover for the unavailable Rohit Sharma.
Australia got an early breakthrough with Josh Hazlewood tempting Rahul into a defensive shot that took a outside edge and carried to Shaun Marsh at first slip, and he was gone for nine.
But that only brought the stoic Pujara to the crease and like he has done all series, the 68-Test veteran dug in and blunted the new ball.
He survived a review decision for caught behind on 12, but was otherwise rock solid.
Third Test hero Pat Cummins was drafted into the attack after just 18 balls of Mitchell Starc to try and force another breakthrough but Agarwal quickly hit a crunching boundary and took eight off his first over.
Playing in only his second Test, Agarwal was targeted with bouncers but held firm, reinforcing his credentials after an impressive debut in Melbourne to reach 42 not out at the break with Pujara unbeaten on 16.
It was the sixth toss in seven Tests that Australia skipper Tim Paine has lost and on a Sydney Cricket Ground pitch expected to be conducive to spin as it wears, it was not a good start.
Whichever captain has won the toss this series has batted first and steered their side to victory.
When Australia bat, they will have a new look opening pair with Usman Khawaja bumped up to accompany Marcus Harris with the underperforming Aaron Finch axed.
In a surprise throw of the dice, leg-spinning all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne was called into the side and will come in at three.
Mitch Marsh was also dropped with Peter Handscomb recalled to counter India’s two spinners.
The tourists selected wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav to play alongside left-arm finger-spinner Ravindra Jadeja after first-choice off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin failed to recover from an abdominal strain.