Zaheer Khan once again led the way with the ball as the Indians wrapped up a comprehensive 96-run victory over Rest of South Africa in the tour game at Sedgars Park in Potchefstroom. Set 321 for victory in a little over five sessions, Rest of South Africa were bowled out for 224, with only a thrilling century partnership between Vaughn van Jaarsveld and Justin Kemp lending respectability to the scoreline. But once Sreesanth engineered the run-out of Van Jaarsveld, the innings unravelled pretty quickly, and the game was sewn up with more than a day to spare.
Having struck with his first ball of the innings, a beautiful swinging delivery that darted back off the pitch to clip Jacques Rudolph's off stump, Zaheer came back after lunch to see off the dangerous Jean Paul Duminy. And Laxman turned to him again as Kemp threatened to make a match of it, and he duly delivered, inducing a top-edged pull that was brilliantly taken on the run by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Van Jaarsveld, who looks and bats a lot like Mark Cosgrove, had resumed where he left off in the first innings, accumulating runs at a rapid clip with some crisp drives and meaty pulls. After Duminy's dismissal, Alviro Petersen was much more circumspect, adding 39 with Van Jaarsveld before VRV Singh struck twice in two balls. Petersen was beaten for pace and trapped in front, while Morne van Wyk was hustled into chopping one onto the stumps, via the pads. Kemp squirted the hat-trick delivery through cover for two, and the runs flowed thereafter.
Irfan Pathan was taken for three fours in an over, including one fortuitous inside edge to fine leg, and VRV Singh was pummelled down the ground and through point. But Van Jaarsveld eclipsed his senior partner with some stunning shots, a straight six off Harbhajan Singh and an emphatic pull for four off VRV Singh being especially noteworthy. A top-edged sweep off Harbhajan was put down by Sachin Tendulkar, running back from slip, when he had made 47, and he then raced to 50 from 44 balls.
He had struck 10 fours and a six by the time Sreesanth's arm caught him short, and the thrilling 100-run partnership had taken just 94 balls. But as is so often the case, the exit of one man spelt doom for the other, and when Kemp followed three overs later, the game was as good as in the bag.
Harbhajan Singh, who didn't get a bowl in the first innings and who is unlikely to feature in the opening Test, dismissed Paul Adams for 0, but there was a late show of defiance from Morne Morkel and Alfonso Thomas, who flayed the bat around with a freedom that suggested they knew the cause was hopelessly lost. They added 35 before Harbhajan had Thomas caught at short fine leg, and the new man, Friedel de Wet, lasted all of one ball. And when Morkel's attempted hoick at Virender Sehwag went only as far as silly point, it was all over.
Earlier, the Indians, resuming at 93 for 7, had ground out a further 49 runs, with Pathan adding an unbeaten 40 to his first-innings century. Zaheer departed early, caught by Van Wyk behind the stumps, but Sreesanth combined some stout defence with some zany strokeplay to help Pathan add 37 for the ninth wicket. de Wet finally had him edging one behind, and when VRV Singh failed to clear cover with a slog, the Indian second innings was wrapped up in just 53.3 overs.
Thomas had sensational figures of 7 for 56 and with the first Test less than a week away; the omens weren't good for the Indians. A strong bowling performance once again glossed over the batting frailties, but drastic improvement is required if the firm of Pollock, Ntini, Steyn and Nel aren't to have field days at the Wanderers.