File photo of India A skipper Cheteshwar Pujara. (BCCI Image)
Pretoria: Buoyed by an innings-and-13-run win over South Africa A in the first unofficial Test in Rustenburg, India A will now aim to wrap up the series when the second and final four-day match gets underway at the LC de Villiers Oval on Saturday. India know the venue well enough having played five 50-over matches here earlier on tour, and if the pitch plays like it did during the tri-series, then Cheteshwar Pujara & Co. can expect to get some more runs under their belts.
The innings win in Rustenburg was set up by the batsmen - Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina all scored centuries - and secured by the bowlers, in particular medium-pacer Ishwar Pandey. After a total of 582 for 9, India A took the lead over South Africa with Pandey taking four wickets backed by three from Raina. The follow-on was enforced, and South Africa were given a tougher time in the second innings as Pandey (3 for 25) and Mohammed Shami (3 for 33) led the way in bowling India to victory.
Looking at this match, the focus is on Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha. Dhawan and Saha failed with the bat in Rustenburg while Vijay made 44. Dhawan and Vijay are fixtures in the Test side this year and so it would be beneficial for them to get some runs before they return in November with the senior side. Rahane is chasing a place as reserve middle-order batsmen in the Test squad and presumably needs a strong showing here before the Ranji Trophy season starts in late October. Saha, like Dinesh Karthik, is hoping to make that tour as backup wicketkeeper and will need to make a statement in Pretoria.
On the bowling front, further success from Pandey and Shami could have a bearing on their futures considering this A tour is an audition for India's tour to South Africa later this year. Left-arm quick Jaydev Unadkat managed just one wicket in the first match and will hope to improve here, considering he too is a prospect for the Test team. Left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem managed two wickets in Rustenburg and could be replaced with offspinner Parvez Rasool. There are no other likely changes.
For the hosts, the fact that only three batsmen managed half-centuries in defeat will be a concern. JP Duminy is pushing for a Test berth and Dean Elgar is looking to hold down his place, and so for them this match looms as an audition too. Skipper Justin Ontong and wicketkeeper Thami Tsolelike are fringe players too, looking to get the selectors' attention.
On the bowling front, that the likes of Wayne Parnell - with 61 international wickets to his name - and Kyle Abbott - who took nine wickets on Test debut - did not rattle the Indian batsmen in the first match is also a worry. Parnell, looking to make a comeback to the national team, took the wickets of Pujara and Raina after they had scored centuries while Abbot went wicketless in 30 overs.
Fast bowler Marchant de Lange - who like Abbott took seven wickets in his first innings of Test cricket - could replace Abbott. Simon Harmer and Andrew Birch are also under the scanner after poor performances in the first match.
South Africa A: 1 Reeza Hendricks, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Rilee Rossouw, 4 JP Duminy, 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Justin Ontong (capt), 7 Thami Tsolekile (wk), 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Simon Harmer/Hardus Viljoen, 10 Kyle Abbott/Marchant de Lange, 11 Andrew Birch/Stiaan van Zyl
India A: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara (capt), 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Ishwar Pandey, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Shahbaz Nadeem/Parvez Rasool, 11 Jaydev Unadkat