Johannesburg: Asian rivals India and Pakistan suffered embarrassing losses on Thursday ahead of this week's World Cup as reigning champions Australia showed why it was the team to beat. India's star-studded batting order, chasing KwaZulu Natal's modest 190 for nine at Chatsworth, slumped to 88 for seven by the 19th over before being shot out for 158 with 11.4 overs still remaining. Opener Virender Sehwag was the only batsmen to shine, smashing a typically aggressive 40 off 59 balls, which included seven boundaries and a six.
But five top-order batsmen failed to reach double figures against a side that had lost to lowly Bangladesh on Wednesday. At Benoni, Pakistan conceded 40 extras, including 14 wides and 10 no balls, and was fined four overs for a slow overrate against the Easterns, which made 215 for nine. Pakistan, in reply, was shot out for 189 in 36.4 overs, its first defeat in three practice matches ahead of Tuesday's key World Cup clash against Australia at the Wanderers. Australia overcame an injury scare to star leg-spinner Shane Warne as it wrapped up a five-wicket win over Northerns at Centurion. Warne suffered a bruised finger and had to undergo treatment off the pitch as Northerns piled up a formidable 277 with Jacques Rudolf smashing 150 off 140 balls.
But even that was not enough to stop the Aussies as Adam Gilchrist hit 71 off 64 balls and Jimmy Maher gave the selectors a nudge with an unbeaten 78. At Cape Town, all-rounder Andrew Hall and opener Gary Kirsten hit centuries as South Africa hammered 327 for seven against Western Province, which lost by 92 runs. All-rounder Craig White, meanwhile, gave England hope he might be fit for the World Cup by bowling a complete 10-over spell against Border at Buffalo Park in East London.
Nick Knight's unbeaten 81 later ensured a comfortable eight-wicket victory for Nasser Hussain's men. Far more heartening for Hussain was the sight of Yorkshire pace bowling all-rounder White bowling his entire permitted spell of 10 overs and taking two for 26 in the process. "Once the initial two overs were out of the way it felt good," said a relieved White afterwards. Mahela Jayawardena hit timely form to lead Sri Lanka to a five-wicket romp over Free State at Bloemfontein. Jayawardena, who struggled through the recent tour of Australia, hit 58 not out as the Sri Lankans overtook Free State's 182-7 with 11.4 overs to spare at Goodyear Park.
Stephen Fleming and Chris Cairns, the two men widely regarded as holding the key for any New Zealand assault on the World Cup, hit form at the right time as the Black Caps brushed aside Gauteng by 116 runs. Skipper Fleming hit 122 from 128 balls, with 10 fours and three sixes, while Cairns, with 70 off 59 deliveries, took New Zealand to a formidable total of 306 for five off 50 overs before restricting its opponents to 190 for eight in reply. The World Cup opens on Sunday with a day-night match between hosts South Africa and the West Indies at Newlands in Cape Town.