Bridgetown: A superb unbeaten 96 by skipper Cheteshwar Pujara carried India A to an exciting two-wicket victory over West Indies A on a tense final day of the opening four-day 'Test' match here at Kensington Oval. The highly-touted 24-year-old from Saurashtra batted all day, holding his nerve and the innings together, as the Indians reached the victory target in fading light, beating showers that had forced three stoppages during the day.
Pujara, who made a disciplined 50 in the first innings, engineered a match-winning unbeaten ninth-wicket stand of 73 with tail-ender Shami Ahmed, who batted for over two hours for 27 not out, reports Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). The pair joined forces with India almost dead and buried at 115 for 8.
Ahmed played the shot of the day, as he launched Holder over long-on for a massive six and that signalled a shift in the momentum. Pujara was watchful all day and never looked fazed as wickets tumbled around him in the first half of the day.
He started the day without a run, having survived a torrid 23 minutes on the third evening but played himself in and gradually grew in confidence. He batted 323 minutes, faced 222 balls and hit 10 boundaries -- the last the winning stroke, a tickle to fine leg off seamer Jonathan Carter.
Pujara's Man-of-the-Match innings bettered a Herculean spell of top-quality seam bowling by Jason Holder. The six-foot-seven-inch 20-year-old from Barbados ended with five for 55 from 27 accurate overs, as he took his fifth five-wicket haul in his 15th first-class match.
He got excellent support from left-arm pacer Delorn Johnson, who bowled with fire and gave a lion-hearted effort to take two for 62 from 21 overs. The West Indies camp will, however, be worried about the lack of penetration from their spinners, who were ineffective and went wicket-less on a last-day pitch.
The pacers wrecked India's much vaunted batting with their impressive bowling. Johnson produced a superb slower ball to clip the off stump of Shihkar Dhawan in the day's third over and medium-pacer Jonathan Carter forced Rohit Sharma (23) into a loose drive at a wide ball which keeper Devon Thomas gleefully snapped up to leave India reeling at 68 for 5.
Holder came back and produced a superb in-swinger which knocked back Manoj Tiwary's off stump as he offered no stroke.
Holder then induced an edge from Wriddhiman Saha, which was well held by Nkrumah Bonner at slip as India middle order was ripped out at 95 for 7. They were then further reduced to 118 for 8 as Holder forced Bhuvneshwar Kumar into a loose backfoot drive to lose his off-stump.
At that stage West Indies were well on top but Pujara found a worthy ally in Ahmed to frustrate the hosts. The second four-day 'Test' starts at the Arnos Vale Ground in St Vincent on Saturday.