File photo of India A skipper Cheteshwar Pujara. (Getty Images)
In losing 5 for 18 and 5 for 7 either side of a 160-run partnership, Cheteshwar Pujara's team slumped to a 121-run defeat in Pretoria on Tuesday that levelled the unofficial Test series 1-1. After the innings-and-13-run win over South Africa A in the first match in Rustenburg, India A were sent crashing down to earth at the LC de Villiers oval in a limp batting effort that could have repercussions as far as selection to the senior side goes.
Set a target of 307 to take the series, India A were jolted early by the loss of Murali Vijay cheaply on the third evening but the real damage was inflicted early on the final morning, courtesy a collapse of 4 for 15. A resuscitating partnership of 160 followed between Test hopefuls Ajinkya Rahane (86) and Wriddhiman Saha (77*) but once the former was removed by the excellent Beuran Hendricks - who took 11 wickets in the match - India A suffered another collapse, this time crashing from 178 for 6 to 185 all out.
Few teams in any format of cricket will win matches when they lose nine wickets for 25 runs, and Pujara's side needs to look no further than those two collapses at either end of the fourth day when they identify the seminal passages of this match.
Earlier in the match, India A had their opponents at 97 for 6 but allowed Wayne Parnell (91) and Simon Harmer (96) to take the score to 283 for 7. That was a big reason in defeat, but the two collapses were more hurtful.
Vijay's poor outing in Pretoria will not have left him in a very positive frame of mind ahead of India's tour to South Africa in November. After 44 in the win at Rustenburg, the Tamil Nadu opener made 4 and 0 in the second match; on all three occasions he fell to pace bowling. Once he edged to the slips, once he was out playing across the line and once he was bowled; three dismissals that do not augur well for a Test opener against a disciplined pace attack on pitches far from zippy.
Considering these two matches were an audition for the senior team, a few players will be disappointed. Ambati Rayudu had a poor match, making 29 and 1, while Siddharth Kaul took two wickets in the first innings and went wicketless in the second.
Stuart Binny's twin failures were also sizeable blots, considering as an allrounder in the middle order a lot was expected from him. In getting out to the orthodox spin of Harmer in both innings - bowled for 0 in the first, lbw for 4 in the second - Binny did his team no good at all. On day two, India A were 144 for 5 when he walked in, and after 12 scoreless deliveries Binny left them at 144 for 6.
That Parvez Rasool ground on an unbeaten 32 batting one spot lower at No. 8 made Binny's failure all the more glaring. In the second innings, when India had again lost Rahane, Binny was out lbw to Harmer as a dramatic collapse of five wickets for seven runs began. Binny also went wicketless in the match. After a good Ranji Trophy season - 622 runs at 38.87 and 27 wickets at 34.96 for Karnataka - the 29-year-old has not used his big chance well.