The Karnataka boys – Mayank Agarwal and Manish Pandey – continued to make cases for national selection by stroking half-centuries to help India B beat Australia A in the quadrangular series final in Bengaluru.
For Agarwal, it was about forgetting his non-selection for the fourth and fifth Tests in England. For Pandey, it was about extending his glorious run of form after warming the bench across both short formats in England and putting himself back in the reckoning for the Asia Cup.
Agarwal’s bruising 67 – to go with an unbeaten 124 earlier in the tournament – set up India B’s chase of 226. His counterattacking 76-run stand for the first wicket with Shubman Gill, after Ishan Kishan had injured his thumb and retired hurt in the seventh over, forced Australia A into the defensive. Once Agarwal fell, Pandey walloped an unbeaten 54-ball 73 to clinch victory in just 36.3 overs.
Pandey added 120 for the second wicket with Gill, who made 66 not out. The India B captain finished the tournament with scores of 95*, 21*, 117* and 73*. In all, his 306 runs came at a strike rate of 99.15.
Agarwal kickstarted the chase with a delightful extra-cover drive for a boundary off the first ball. But it wasn’t until he backed away and walloped a length ball from Billy Stanlake inside-out for six over the same region that his confidence soared. The shot came in the middle of an intense new-ball burst from Stanlake, who had just rapped Kishan on his thumb with a lifter.
Two balls later, Australia A were celebrating again when Michael Neser threw himself to his right to pluck a one-handed catch off Gill at midwicket. However, while checking if the catch had been clean, the umpires discovered that Stanlake had overstepped. Gill, on 0 then, made use of his good fortune to punish Australia and bring up a measured half-century off 67 balls.
Once he reached the landmark, Gill shifted into overdrive. His bottom-handed whip off the legspinner Mitchell Swepson and his six over long-on off Neser showed off his authority at the crease.
With the foundation set and no pressure to contend with, Pandey kept himself busy, collecting his runs in typically unorthodox fashion. In his previous outing, Pandey had displayed swift footwork in trying to smother spin. On Wednesday, he brought out deft touches and stayed back in his crease. And then, once the target was within sight, he brought out the big hits.
Australia, who finished the tournament with two wins in four games, had D’Arcy Short’s 72 at the top of the order among their positives. But their performance against spin will give them lots to think about leading into the two four-day matches in September. Australia A had talked up their approach to spin, and the positive influence of spin-specific camps in Brisbane and Bengaluru. However, they failed to walk the talk, losing six wickets to the spinners in the final. As a result, they conceded whatever advantage they had gained, having at one stage looked good for 250.