Australia survived a massive scare from India’s tailenders to snatch a thrilling four-run victory in the first match of their one-day international series here on Sunday.
The world champions posted a daunting 292-8 and had the hosts reeling at 201-7 before Harbhajan Singh (49) and Praveen Kumar (40 not out) launched a stunning counter-attack to take the match down to the wire.
Harbhajan slammed three sixes in his 31-ball knock and shared 84 runs off 57 balls with Kumar for the eighth wicket, but his dismissal in the final over turned the match in Australia’s favour.
Needing nine runs for a win in the last over by Peter Siddle, the Indians could manage just four to finish on 288-8 and hand the visitors a 1-0 lead in the seven-match series.
Left-handed opener Gautam Gambhir top-scored with 68 but India’s chances were severely affected by the early dismissals of Virender Sehwag (13) and Sachin Tendulkar (14).
”Full credit to Harbhajan and Kumar for bringing us so close to the target,” said Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
”But we lost too many wickets in the middle overs,” he said. ”Only Gambhir managed a 50 and if one more player had gone on to make a big knock, things could have been different.”
Australia, ranked number one in the one-day charts, were indebted to captain Ricky Ponting (74) and Michael Hussey (73), who ensured a stiff target for India through their aggressive batting.
India’s chase began on a shaky note as they lost explosive opener Sehwag in the fifth over, caught behind by Tim Paine off paceman Brett Lee (1-28).
Tendulkar, set to complete 20 years in international cricket next month, lost his wicket in tame fashion, holing out to Ponting after facing 39 balls and hitting just two fours.
Ponting, 34, smashed eight fours and two sixes in his 85-ball knock and put on 97 runs with Paine (50) after electing to bat on a placid wicket at the packed Reliance stadium.
Hussey, named man-of-the-match, built on the platform laid by the duo to slam eight fours and a huge six in a late assault that also saw Cameron White chip in with 51.
”Hussey was excellent and he made it look easy for us,” said Ponting. ”Siddle also bowled a splendid last over. He has done it before for us as well. That’s a great positive we can take from this match.
”We bowled very well in the first 45 overs but we need to be better at the death.”
The Australians did well to regroup after the early dismissal of Shane Watson, coming into this series after hitting back-to-back centuries in the Champions Trophy semifinal and final.
Watson (five) failed to read a sharp incutting delivery from Ashish Nehra and was adjudged leg-before by umpire Amish Saheba, who took on the on-field umpire’s role after England’s Mark Benson fell ill on the eve of the match.
Saheba had earlier been named as the third umpire.
Ponting, who became only the second Australian after Steve Waugh to feature in 50 one-day internationals against India, looked in prime form as he anchored the innings with young Paine.
The Aussie skipper raced to his 71st half-century with a boundary before being trapped leg-before by Ravindra Jadeja, the left-arm spinner picking his first wicket in his fourth one-day international.
The second match of the series will be played in the western city of Nagpur on Wednesday. — AFP