Bridgetown: Cheteshwar Pujara took a giant stride towards Test breakthrough as he led India A to a thrilling two-wicket win with an unbeaten 96-run knock, on the fourth and final day of the match against the West Indies A.
Chasing a modest 186, India A were in doldrums at 68 for five before Pujara played the captain’s role exceptionally well to guide the visitors to a nerve-wrecking win.
Pujara added 73 runs with No.10 batsman Shami Ahmed (27) to steer the Indians home after a horrible collapse had severely jeopardised the team’s chances.
Captain Pujara, who had struck a 50 in the first innings, once again proved his worth as he held one end, even as wickets tumbled at regular interval around him.
The 24-year-old right-hander faced 222 deliveries and struck 10 fours in a calculated innings that should impress the selectors when the senior squad is picked. For the home team, lanky pacer Jason Holder, playing at his home ground, registered his third five-wicket haul in his 15th first-class match — a performance that reduced India A to 115 for eight at one stage.
On a rain-interrupted day, a draw seemed likely when the two teams went off the field in the final hour with India A needing 20 runs. But the weather cleared and Pujara ensured that it was an opportunity grabbed as he took his side to a nail-biting triumph.
When rain struck the match for the first time, at lunch break, West Indies A pacers had added three more wickets to the overnight tally, giving away just 55 runs in the process.
Most of India’s batting was a poor effort with six of their willow-wielders falling to single-digit scores. Rohit Sharma, who had rescued the team with a 94 in the first innings, fought hard for a 60-ball 23, but could not build on the patient effort and dismissed by pacer Derlorn Johnson.
India A were 115 when Holder dismissed No.9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar (3), giving the hosts a good chance of sealing a win.
Holder followed Bhuvneshwar’s scalp up with a bouncer that hit Pujara on the right hand. Even as the physio made his way off the ground, rain made a second appearance, sending players in for an early tea break.
Pujara and Ahmed had added only five runs by then, and you would have thought that a further delay might have given them some hope for a draw if they could hang in until the next rain interruption.
Soon after tea Ahmed lofted Holder over long-on for a six. That seemed to be a momentum-shifting shot.
Pujara has had previous experience of batting well with the Saurashtra tail too, most notably when he saved one in the fog and fading light of Delhi in 2007-08. He'll be glad he went a step further this time.