India A take opening day honours
India A 354 for 4 (Chopra 137*, Patel 110, Badrinath 77*) v South Africa A
Mohammad Kaif's decision to bat first on a very green surface took an initial hiccup as South Africa grabbed two quick wickets, the captain himself falling for a second-ball duck. The two openers, Cheteshwar Pujara and Chopra, looked defensive from the word go. There were no positive shots and the feet just weren't moving. Friedel de Wet, a bustling right-arm fast-medium bowler who plays for Lions in South Africa, drew a nick from Pujara to the wicketkeeper in the eighth over. Two balls later, he trapped Kaif plumb in front with a lovely inswinger. This series is a major opportunity for Kaif to try and get back into the national side, and it got off to the worst possible start.
India were 13 for 2 when the diminutive Patel strode in to bat. His talent with the bat has never been in doubt - it remains to be seen how keeps in this match, and series - and from the moment he walked to the crease he was innovative. He moved his feet exceptionally well against the spinner. When Justin Ontong, an orthodox bowler if ever there was, came on with the mid-off and mid-on in and a deep-cover point waiting, Patel danced down and converted fullish deliveries into full tosses.
And when Werner Coetsee, an offspinning allrounder, gave him even the faintest bit of room Patel was right over the ball, cutting late and through the arc backward of square. There was also a firm straight drive for four off Rory Kleinveldt before Patel raised his half-century from 51 deliveries. Kleinveldt, a Cape Cobras allrounder who bowls with a classical round-arm action, was also impressive with his ability to hit the deck but as Patel opened up, even his threat was negated. Patel's cutting remained his strongest asset.
He continued in the same vein after the lunch break - his back-foot play being a treat to watch - reaching his fourth first-class hundred in as many matches. Soon after, he cut Coetsee to backward point but a fumble from the fielder led to a mix-up with Chopra, and Patel was run out.
Chopra, who last played for India in October 2004, survived a close shout for caught behind early in his innings, the ball brushing his forearm, and ten minutes before lunch he was let off twice. First Thami Tsolekile, the wicketkeeper, let Chopra off against Ontong as he tried to dab him down to third man and the next ball he was dropped by Hashim Amla at long-on as he miscued a slog. By lunch, Chopra had plodded along to 27 from 94 balls but with Patel for inspiration he opened up as the day progressed.
His driving and flicking were impressive as Chopra moved to an 18th first-class hundred. With the in-form Subramanian Badrinath for company, Chopra added 176 in 42 overs after another comeback kid, Manoj Tiwary, came and went for 2. Badrinath was unbeaten on 77 from 107 balls at the close.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo