Pujara and Kaif take India to series triumph
India A 167 for 1 (Pujara 68*, Kaif 59*) beat Sri Lanka A (Mahesh 3-26) 165 by 9 wickets
India A called all the shots at Nairobi today, winning the toss, bowling out Sri Lanka A for 165 and then easing to a nine-wicket win to clinch the final of this three-nation tournament. There were big wickets from the pace bowlers and seamers and positive innings from Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammad Kaif as India reached their target inside 26 overs.
Early morning rain meant the game got underway later than scheduled, and was consequently reduced to 39 overs a side, but the Indians wasted little time in getting stuck in. The last ball of the fifth over, from Irfan Pathan, swung away from Dilruwan Perera and the resultant nick was easily held by Parthiv Patel for the first of his six dismissals. Praveen Kumar continued his good series by beating Mahela Udawatte for pace, the batsman reacting late and losing his off stump for a brisk 35 from 27 deliveries.
Pankaj Singh dealt the third blow when he forced Kaushal Silva to fend at a rising delivery outside off stump and edge to Kaif at first slip to make it 52 for 3. Gayan Wijekoon (38 from 42 balls) and Malinda Warnapura added 52 before Yo Mahesh dismissed Warnapura, and from there Sri Lanka were unable to string together and sizeable partnerships. Mahesh added Wijekoon and Sujeewa de Silva to his kitty. Pathan came back to get Kaushal Lokuarachchi and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha finished with 2 for 33 from his eight overs.
India's chase began with Pujara slashing one over the slips and to the boundary and edging another from Chanaka Welegedara that did not carry to the fielder but Kumar was not as shaky, hitting consecutive fours off Nuwan Kulasekara back past the stumps and over mid-off. Another flick to fine leg followed but Welegedara forced Kumar (26) to scoop a slower one back to him just after the 50 was raised in the seventh over. Kumar finished as the tournament's leading run-scorer with a total of 165 runs.
Pujara edged through the slips a second time and had to work hard for his runs but Kaif opened up with two pulled fours and one drive back down the ground. In one de Silva over he twice drove through the covers and slogged one past mid-on, raising the 50-run stand with Pujara in just 8.2 overs.
A crowd of about 1000, mostly Indian, cheered loudly and made their players feel at home in the afternoon sunshine. Wijekoon erred in line slightly and Kaif pulled him for four; Pujara brought up his half-century, from 60 balls, with a drive for three down to long-on; Lokuarachchi tossed it up and Pujara hammered him over the infield. Kaif brought up his own fifty before hitting Lokuarachchi for a huge straight six. Pujara swept the same bowler for four take the partnership to a match-winning 115 runs.
At the post-match conference, Warnapura, the Sri Lankan captain, conceded that his side batted poorly. Kaif said the toss was important as it set the tone for his game plan, and singled out his bowlers as key to this victory. He also thanked the fans and acknowledged his players' commitment throughout the series in Zimbabwe as well as in Kenya
Pujara was awarded the Man of the Match and Kumar Man of the Series.