Agarwal, Pandey tons secure final berth
India A 371 for 3 (Agarwal 176, Pandey 108*) beat South Africa A 337 for 6 (De Kock 113, Zondo 86, Hendricks 76) by 34 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
There were two centurions from India A, and only one from South Africa A. Simple math won in the end, and the visitors were knocked out of the A-team tri-series in Chennai. Mayank Agarwal hammered 176 off just 133 balls, Manish Pandey galloped to 108 off 85, and India A batted the opposition out of the game. South Africa A were set a target of 372, and they had to get it in 29 overs to qualify for the final. Quinton de Kock did his best with 113 off 86 balls, but it was too tall a task.
Seeking a better chance to get that bonus point, Dane Vilas, the stand-in South Africa A captain, chose to bowl. As iffy as their history is with chasing, the team's best chance remained with the batsmen making the play. Among the four left-arm seamers, only Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been decent. Their spin reserves have not impressed either. Trusting the bowlers to get them through seemed too big a gamble. On the other hand, they had a sturdier batting order with the return of de Kock, who now has five centuries from six one-day matches against an Indian team.
The problem, of course, was South Africa gave away too many runs. The problem was Agarwal, a player known for short and punchy cameos, managing to play a long innings. He helped lay the foundation with a 106-run opening partnership with Unmukt Chand, and then took control of the middle overs with Pandey in a 203-run stand, the scoring rate during which was 8.45 per over.
As mammoth as India A's total was, it did not come helter skelter early on. India A had been 37 for 0 in 10 overs, but with the pitch offering very little challenge, and the opposition bowlers unable to lift themselves, steady acceleration became all out carnage - 195 runs came off the last 20 overs.
India A's innings, in fact, mirrored Agarwal's. The batsman was slow early on - 30 off his first 49 balls - but he could afford to be because Chand was making sure South Africa A were under the pump with 64 off 77 balls. But once Agarwal got himself set, his usual manic tempo resurfaced. He secured his second hundred of the series off 96 balls, and the 150 came a mere 21 balls later. His lack of consistency has been a long-standing complaint, but Agarwal has five fifty-plus scores in seven one-day innings and his current average of 55.1 is the best for an Indian with at least 1000 List A runs.
Almost unnoticed at the other end, Pandey was working himself to hitting rhythm. He was 51 off 52 balls when the final 10 overs began but completed a century in the final over of the innings. It was a partnership well-suited to exploit a benign pitch and listless bowling. Agarwal and Pandey have techniques dictated by strong bottom hands, a preference for the front foot and unorthodox shot selection.
So when South Africa A bowled back of a length, the batsmen still waded forward and flat-batted them into a wide arc from midwicket to extra cover. The visitors did not help themselves by dropping Agarwal on 29. He ended up making 110 runs in boundaries alone. The other reprieve came from a mistake by umpire Virender Sharma, who failed to spot an outside edge as Pandey nicked off to the wicketkeeper in the 40th over.
With chances of progress distant, de Kock indulged in reclaiming his lost form. He had little trouble assessing the pace of the pitch, and nearly every time he planted his front foot down for an almighty swing to the leg side, he succeeded. He got to 50 off 29 balls, produced a hat-trick of boundaries in the 18th over from legspinner Karn Sharma, and cruised to his hundred off 76 balls. He gathered 76 runs from 60 balls of spin, which should help his confidence ahead of an important tour of India in October.
Another hopeful to make the South African Test side, Reeza Hendricks, got some batting time with 76 off 109 balls. He looks like an accumulator and does present a good option for the senior team if they are still looking at a Test opener. Khaya Zondo offset that slow pace with 86 off 60 balls, but South Africa A were never in with a chance today.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo