Pretoria: Needing a victory to seal their spot in the triangular final, India A got one foot firmly in the door - well, it all but smashed that door down - thanks to Shikhar Dhawan's rambunctious, boundary-laden 248 off 150 balls that set South Africa A a massive target of 434 at the LC de Villiers Oval on Monday. 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.
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 the skipper, Cheteshwar Pujara, who ticked along at a decent clip while offering the strike to Dhawan. The left-hander 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. Vaughan 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 eight boundaries. Though Suresh Raina (6) fell in the pursuit of quick runs at the death, Dinesh Karthik collected a breezy 18 off 12 balls.