Zaheer Khan came up with a fine spell of fast bowling as India crushed Ireland by eight wickets in a rain-shortened match in the ICC World Twenty20, at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, on Wednesday.
The left-arm pacer took four wickets for 19 runs in his three overs as the minnows were restricted to 112 for 8 in the 18 overs-a-side match.
In reply, India cruised to 113 for two in 15.3 overs, courtesy Rohit Sharma's 52 from 45 deliveries.
The Indian run chase was set up nicely by a 77-run opening partnership in 10.5 overs between Rohit and Gautam Gambhir, who made 37 from 31 deliveries.
Earlier, Zaheer started off with a bang after India elected to bowl, claiming two wickets in his first two overs, before finishing with impressive figures of four for 19 in three.
Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh made sure Ireland's batsmen never recovered from the early setbacks by claiming two for 18 and one for 25 respectively.
Both teams had already made it to the Super Eights of the tournament after winning their opening matches against Bangladesh.
Strangely, India decided not to experiment and retained the same eleven that beat Bangladesh in their first match. This was at best a dead rubber and an ideal opportunity to test the bench strength ahead of the Super Eights, but they chose to continue with the winning combination.
Left-armers Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan made most of the overcast conditions in the opening overs. Zaheer struck in the second over, bowing Jeremy Bray with a sharp inswinging delivery for a duck. (4-1, 2)
Ireland captain William Porterfield (5) fell in Zaheer's next over, when he edged one straight to Yusuf Pathan at first slip. (9-2, 3.1)
In the same over, Andre Botha, who made 8, also fell in the similar fashion when he tried to guide Zaheer to third man and the edge was neatly held by Yusuf diving to his left. (17-3, 4)
Zaheer seemed to have found his rhythm as he rocked the Irish top order with three wickets in seven deliveries to leave them reeling at 17 for three after four overs.
Pragyan Ojha struck with his first delivery when Kevin O'Brien dragged a short delivery on to his stumps and was bowled for 2. (28-4, 6.1)
India messed up an easy chance to pick the fifth Ireland wicket in the seventh over. A huge misunderstanding saw both John Mooney and Gary Wilson end up at the same end but Suresh Raina, in the covers, threw in a hard return which Ojha failed to gather.
After the highs of the victory against Bangladesh, it was back to a reality check against defending champions India. Nearly four overs passed with a boundary before Mooney reverse swept Ojha for a boundary in the ninth over.
Harbhajan Singh then compounded their misery further when he bowled Wilson for 19. The right-hander failed the read the outgoing delivery and played inside the line and was bowled.
Ireland were reduced to 48 for five at the halfway stage.
John Mooney scratched his way around for 19 from 22 deliveries before hitting a reverse sweep straight to the short third man fielder off Ojha. (72-6, 14.4)
Suresh Raina made up for his earlier missed run-out with a brilliant throw to catch Regan West short of his crease and leave Ireland struggling at 73 for seven after 15 overs.
Andrew White hit the first six of the match. His top edge off an intended pull shot sailed over the fine leg fence. Alex Cusack followed that up with a boundary through point as Ireland scored 15 runs from that Irfan Pathan over to register their best over of the match thus far.
Zaheer claimed his fourth wicket when White, who scored 29 from 25 deliveries, edged behind to wicketkeeper Dhoni. (92-8, 16.2)
Cusack finished unbeaten on 12 from six deliveries and Kyle McCallan made 9 from seven deliveries as Ireland finished on 112 for eight in their 18 overs.
Zaheer led the bowling honours, claiming four for 19 in his three overs. Ojha, playing his second Twenty20 international claimed two for 18 in four overs, while Harbhajan claimed one for 25 in four overs.
Gautam Gambhir started off confidently, scoring a boundary through the covers off the first ball of the innings from Boyd Rankin.
Rohit Sharma seemed content to spend some time in the middle as Gambhir looked to attack from the other end. The left-hander cut a short wide delivery from Rankin over the point boundary for the first six of the innings as India reached 38 for no loss after five overs.
The two batsmen were in no hurry as they looked to avoid unnecessary risks and brought up their 50-run partnership after seven overs.
With a lowly target of 113, India were content to play it around, thereby increasing the frustration among spectators who were shouting for sixes and fours.
There was nothing much happening till Gambhir threw his wicket away. The left-hander, who made 37 from 31 deliveries, stepped down the wicket to West but ended up slicing a simple catch to the point fielder. (77-1, 10.5)
Once again captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked in at number three, leaving many wondering if he could have given someone else a run in the middle.
Rohit finally answered the fans' calls by slamming Rankin for a huge six over the midwicket fence as India cruised past the 100-run mark in the 14th over.
Dhoni didn't last long. He lofted Kyle McCallan straight to Jeremy Bray at square leg and was gone after scoring 13 from 14 deliveries. (100-2, 13.4)
It seems strange that Suresh Raina, who had a fine run at number for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League last month, is being relegated down to number five. Dhoni has struggled at this position and must seriously reconsider batting down at number five or six, where he can attack the bowling in the final few overs.
Rohit brought up his half-century off just 44 deliveries with an elegant lofted boundary through the covers in the 16th over. He then cut off-spinner McCallan fine through the third man region for a single to take India to 116 for two in 15.3 overs for an easy eight-wicket victory.
Rohit finished unbeaten on a solid knock of 52 from 45 deliveries, inclusive of four boundaries and a six. The team management must have been a bit concerned after Virender Sehwag was ruled out of the tournament after failing to recover from a shoulder injury but after watching Rohit's run of form, they must now be assured.
India next plays the West Indies at Lord's in their first Super Eights match on Friday, June 12.