Pujara, Gambhir put India A ahead
India A 334 for 3 (Pujara 139*, Gambhir 123) lead West Indies A 268 by 66 runs
It was a distracting sort of day in Hubli. Even before Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement, taking the fizz out of the game, there was enough to sidetrack you. West Indies A used four wicketkeepers - one of them not even part of their XI, but allowed on humanitarian grounds, - on two separate occasions bees invaded the field forcing the players to lie prone for minutes, a batsman was hit-wicket and bowled to the same delivery, and the goods train kept honking its horns on the nearby railway track. Gautam Gambhir, though, managed to put all that aside, concentrated hard, got lucky when the concentration broke on the rare occasion, and scored his third first-class century of the year. He has scored only three since January 2010, which is why he finds himself out of the Test side.
With Gambhir, for a majority of the innings, was a man with whom he has been discussing batting in the lead-up to the match, Cheteshwar Pujara. The two put on 207 for the second wicket to put India A in a position from where they can push for a win. At the end of the second day, they led West Indies A by 66 runs with seven wickets in hand. While Pujara remained unbeaten on 139, Virender Sehwag fell for a middling 38 after he had begun well and had the dispirited West Indies A attack at his mercy.
If that soft dismissal wasn't enough for Sehwag, he walked back to the news that his good friend, ODI opening partner, mentor and team-mate of 93 Tests, had retired. His reaction was a stunned "Oh, he is retiring?"
Gambhir had already been dismissed by then. His century was not quite a scratchy effort, but it had periods where the conviction was missing. It isn't entirely unexpected of a batsman fighting to come back to form. There were the reassuring off-drives and late cuts, and the milking of the spinners to go with it. Along the way he was helped by the generous fielding: 10 overthrows came his way to go with a dropped chance.
Gambhir's day began with two plays-and-misses in the first over, but he saw off the new ball well. Even during the spells when boundaries didn't come regularly, he didn't go out of his way looking for them. He left well on length, and reacted well to the fuller change-up deliveries, either driving them down the ground or clipping them to leg.
The first blip in concentration came in the last over before lunch when Gambhir went driving at a wide delivery, but was dropped at second slip by Ashley Nurse. He was 56 then. Soon after lunch other elements would test his concentration. In the first over after the interval, wicketkeeper Jahmar Hamilton hurt his finger, handing the gloves over to Jonathan Carter, who looked pretty uncomfortable but there was no better option around. Soon Carter hurt his finger too, and Nurse had to don the gloves. While that was happening, bees attacked the field. The crowd went wild. Minutes were wasted, and the batsmen wondered what was going on.
By the time Nurse took a knock himself, the match referee had allowed West Indies A to use the specialist wicketkeeper Chadwick Walton, who had sat out this game. Even as the surreal session went ahead, the odd delivery would jump out of nowhere. Gambhir was 85 when he tried his dab to third man, but was beaten by a stinger from Delorn Johnson.
When Gambhir was 93, the tea break arrived. After the break he went from 93 to 99 without fuss, but grew awfully nervous on one run short of the hundred. The first two balls on 99 went well, but the next six were excruciating even as the 15,000 spectators cheered him on. He tried to rock back and cut, he tried to step out and loft, on the odd occasion he began to run after hitting straight, and also survived a loud lbw shout when he played Nurse across the line.
Finally Nurse provided him a long hop, which Gambhir pulled in the air - not high enough to go over the head of a fielder - but in the gap between the two midwickets placed for him. Gambhir couldn't carry on for much longer. When he went back to cut Narsingh Deonarine, he went too deep into the crease, the bat came down on the middle stump, after which the ball hit the stumps.
Gambhir was given out bowled. Just like "bowled" takes precedence even though a decision against a batsman for any other method of dismissal is justified, the Tendulkar news was bound to take precedence.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo