Rustenburg: Captain Cheteshwar Pujara hit a scintillating 140 as India A reached 281 for three against South Africa A at stumps on the Day One of the first unofficial Test, here, at the Olympia Park, on Saturday.
Pujara cracked 17 boundaries in his 205-ball innings and also forged a superb 176-run partnership with Rohit Sharma (70) for the third wicket to put India A in a position of strength in this four-day match.
Besides, he added 66 runs for the second wicket with opener Murali Vijay (44) after Shikhar Dhawan (11) was dismissed with just 28 runs on the board. The Saurashtra batsman was ably supported by Rohit, whose unbeaten 159-ball innings was studded with eight fours and a six.
At the end of the day’s proceedings, Rohit has Ajinkya Rahane (batting on 11) with him at the crease.
Earlier, Dhawan (11) was extremely cautious, preferring to see off the initial phase. The watchful start, though, didn’t prolong his stay in the middle as off-spinner Simon Harmer brought about his dismissal.
Harmer induced an edge from the left-hander to Reeza Hendricks at first slip.
Vijay, however, looked in good touch right from the outset and along with Pujara steadied the ship after the fall of Dhawan. Looking set for a big score, Andrew Birch got rid of Vijay against the run of play when he had him caught by Harmer at second slip in the 38th over.
Pujara and Sharma then joined hands and kept their opponents at bay, picking up singles and twos and also putting away the bad balls away for boundaries.
The duo’s positive approach, combined with proper technique helped India A seize the momentum as they went into the tea break at 147 for two.
In the final session, Pujara and Sharma kept the scoreboard moving fast and hardly seemed to have problems against the South Africa A attack. Both the batsmen picked up seven boundaries each and scored 123 runs between them.
Pujara was finally dismissed by left-armer Wayne Parnell, who got one to sneak through the former’s defences, in the 84 th over of the day.
Earlier, Vijay began on a confident note, driving Parnell through the cover region in the second over. Vijay looked to take Harmer on, smacking him for a four and a six off successive deliveries before hitting the off-spinner for two boundaries later in the morning session.
Pujara, too, wasted no opportunity to cash in on the loose stuffs on offer from Harmer. He pulled Harmer over square leg and then cut him through the point region in consecutive overs.
Pacer Kyle Abbott, too, proved hardly effective, posing very few problems for the batsmen.
However, Birch gave South Africa A the much-needed breakthrough when he had Vijay caught by Harmer at second slip in the 38th over.
Rohit then joined Pujara in the middle and the duo was sensible enough to ensure their rivals don't have any more success after getting the wicket of Vijay much against the run of play.
Pujara reached his half-century when he edged a Birch delivery, which fell short off the fielder at gully and raced away to the fence. Rohit, too, looked to be getting into his groove by depositing Rohit for half-a-dozen over mid-on. Boundaries flowed from both ends as Pujara and Rohit's approach had South Africa A bowlers to gradually go on the defensive as they went into the tea break.