Pretoria: Riding on Shikhar Dhawan's rambunctious, boundary-laden 248 off 150 balls, India A beat South Africa A by 39 runs at the LC de Villiers Oval on Monday to set a date with their Australian counterparts in the tri-series final in two days. Dhawan, rested for the 25-run defeat to Australia A that left India in a must-win situation, returned to the line-up and smashed a career-best List A score while dominating a second-wicket stand of 285 with Cheteshwar Pujara who made 109*.
In doing so, Dhawan came within 21 runs of the highest List A score of all time. India's total of 433 for 3 was also the sixth-highest ever in the format, and despite the flat nature of the pitch it proved well beyond the hosts' reach. Reeza Hendricks (106 off 78 balls) gave India a scare he once was dismissed in the 25th over the chase lost steam.
For the third match in a row, India were given a platform by their openers. Today, the chosen pair was Dhawan and Murali Vijay and they put on 91 for the first wicket, with each batsman trying to outdo the other in the scoring stakes. Both took a boundary off the first over bowled by Hardus Viljoen but Dhawan galloped ahead of his partner by cracking three consecutive fours off Viljoen in the third over. Vijay replied with three boundaries in three overs, moving to within eight runs of Dhawan's 29. Dhawan proceeded to clatter three fours off left-arm spinner Roelof van der Merwe; Vijay replied by hitting Viljoen for three boundaries in the ninth over.
Dhawan reached fifty in 31 balls but Vijay (40) was unable to catch up, nicking Beuran Hendricks behind the wicket in the 12th over. That ushered in Pujara, who ticked along at a decent clip while offering the strike to Dhawan. Dhawan slowed down once Vijay departed, taking 55 balls to scored his second 50 runs but still reached a century at a strike-rate of 86 - his fourth of the summer following three at ODI level - with a boundary off van der Merwe to long-on. The celebration was two twos in a row, followed by consecutive sixes off medium-pacer Justy Theron, the second of which raised the 100 stand with Pujara. The skipper's contribution was 30 off 40 balls.
Dhawan chose to step on the pedal, hitting a four and six in the next two overs as India's total crossed 200 in the 29th over. Hendricks was hit for three fours in a row as Dhawan galloped to 150, while at the other end Pujara hit his first four - a glance to fine leg off Viljoen. With his 19th boundary, a drive to long-on off the hapless Viljoen, Dhawan surpassed his previous best List A score of 155* scored for his state team Delhi. At the drinks break after 33 overs, India were 251 for 1.
The landmark came in 132 balls with a push into the covers, a momentarily release of emotion before Dhawan went back to belting the cover off the ball. Vaughn van Jaarsveld was punished for three fours, Hendricks launched over the ropes twice in an over, and six No. seven came when Viljoen was driven over extra cover. Having hit back-to-back boundaries off Theron in the 45th over, Dhawan was bowled for 248 - 21 runs short of beating Ali Brown's record score of 268* in List A cricket.
Pujara also got a brisk century, in 90 balls, helped by seven boundaries. Though Suresh Raina (6) fell in the pursuit of quick runs at the death, Dinesh Karthik collected a breezy 18 off 12 balls.
In reply to that mountain of a target, South Africa were given a rousing start by Rilee Roussow and Reeza Hendricks who rattled off 119 in 12.4 overs. The 100 came up in the tenth over, with both openers taking a liking to India's bowlers. Ishwar Pandey came in for punishment, conceding 32 in his first three overs, while Jaydev Unadkat was carved for nine boundaries by Reeza Hendricks during his opening spell. Pujara opted to bowl Parvez Rasool for the seventh over and the offspinner went for 15 as Roussow took him apart.
Reeza Hendricks raced to his half-century in just 28 deliveries, but lost Roussow (43) in the 13th over, bowled by left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem. Raina produced the next wicket, dismissing Test hopeful Dean Elgar (15) in the 15th over. The two wickets did not slow South Africa's charge, with van Jaarsveld hitting Raina for six and four and Reeza Hendricks moving into the nineties with a maximum off Nadeem. He got his hundred in in the 25th over by smashing Stuart Binny for 4 but was bowled five balls later.
Vaughn van Jaarsveld scored 108 off just 91 balls with seven fours and five big sixes and was also the top scorer for South Africa A. He was well supported by Justin Ontong, who scored 49 off 36 balls with eight boundaries. Roelof van der Merwe played a cameo of 36 to take South Africa A past 350 before falling to Ishwar Pandey. Pandey took four wickets and was the pick of the bowlers for India A. Jaydev Unadkat picked up two wickets as South Africa A were all out for 394.
The pitch at the LC De Villiers stadium was as flat as the one available at Rajkot as 827 runs were scored in total 98.4 overs. The Indian bowlers were hit all over the park and Hendricks and Russouw thrashed the visitors for 121 runs in only 12.1 overs.
Ishwar Chand Pandey got important breakthroughs in the slog overs but not before getting a pasting from the Proteas batsmen. The 89-run sixth-wicket stand between Van Jaarsveld and Van der Merwe almost took South Africa to the required target before Pandey removed the duo in a space of three deliveries to finally ensure an Indian win.