Munaf stands out in drawn encounter
KwaZulu-Natal Invitation XI 243 for 8 (Gobind 88, van Vuuren 50) v Indians 270 for 6 decl
Munaf Patel picked up two wickets on his return from an ankle injury, but the Indian bowlers were made to toil on a hot and humid day at the Northwood Crusaders Ground as their two-day match against a Kwazulu-Natal Invitation XI ended in a draw. Having declared on the overnight score of 270 for 6, the Indians were given the runaround in the afternoon session before some quick wickets prior to and after tea gave the scorecard a more respectable look. When play was called off an hour after tea, the home side had progressed to 243 for 8, with Rivash Gobind and Michael van Vuuren having made eye-catching half-centuries.
Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth, who shared the new ball at the Wanderers, took it again on Saturday morning, and Munaf had to wait till the 12th over for his chance. The impact was immediate, with Fabian Lazarus struck on the pad in front of the stumps. But Ross McMillan and Gobind then rebuilt the innings slowly, as only 68 came in the 27 overs before lunch.
It was a different story after the interval. Sourav Ganguly, on to relieve the frontline pace bowlers, picked up McMillan and Martin Bekker in quick succession, but Van Vuuren and Gobind then pounded out a rapid 97-run partnership. Irfan Pathan was flayed all around the park, and even Anil Kumble wasn't exempt from rough treatment, with Van Vuuren slamming two sixes and a couple of fours.
He and Gobind played superb shots all around the ground as the run-rate went up to a gallop. Needing to staunch the flow of runs, the Indians were forced to call back the likes of Zaheer and Munaf as the afternoon wore on. Munaf finally got Van Vuuren, brilliantly taken at slip by Laxman, and when Harbhajan Singh came on in the 54th over, an impetuous charge from Gobind presented Mahendra Singh Dhoni with a simple stumping. By then he had made 88 from 128 balls, and the Indians gave him an ovation as the players trooped off for tea.
Harbhajan added two more wickets in the final session, and there was one for VRV Singh as well, as the Indians were forced to pull out all the stops in stifling conditions. After the monotony of repeated net sessions though, this was one step closer to what awaits at Kingsmead on Boxing Day.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo