The crowds beseeched the gods. The miracle however never happened as the aggressive duo of Harbhajan Singh (49) and Praveen Kumar (40 n.o.) suffered a heart-break as Australia snatched a four-run victory against India in the first match of the Hero Honda Cup One-Day International series at the Reliance Stadium here on Sunday.
Australia leads the seven-match series 1-0, but the victory was registered amidst frayed nerves and chewed up nails. Harbhajan (49, 31b, 4x4, 3x6) and Praveen (40 n.o., 32b, 5x4, 1x6) through their 84-run eighth-wicket partnership off 57 balls nearly upset Ricky Ponting’s plans.
However, in the end, chasing Australia’s 292 for eight in 50 overs proved to be a tough task for India after openers Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar were dismissed cheaply though Gautam Gambhir briefly offered hope through his dogged 68 (85b, 6x4, 1x6). India was eventually restricted to 288 for eight in 50 overs.
The Indian hopes initially surged when Sehwag (13) crashed Brett Lee’s first two deliveries in to the billboards. However, the innings suffered a jolt as Lee opened up Sehwag with the one that moved away and later Tendulkar (14), with three fielders in his line of vision, lunged into his drive off Shane Watson and found Ponting at short-cover.
At 45 for two and with two of its game-changers gone, India struggled though Gambhir, Harbhajan and Praveen tried hard to revive the chase.
Gambhir was cruising with his placements past point and a six off James Hopes but his dismissal during the batting Power Play that started in the 35th over, stalled India’s momentum.
Harbhajan and Praveen, who thrived on a dropped catch by substitute Shaun Marsh, then stepped in and almost tore up the Aussie script. The merry duo clattered fours all over the park and when the equation boiled down to 29 from the last two overs, Watson was hammered for 20 leaving nine to be scored from the last over bowled by Peter Siddle.
Miserly final over
The target however proved elusive as Siddle castled Harbhajan and the Indians mustered just four from the last six deliveries to gift a sigh of relief to Ponting.
Earlier, Australia found batting efficiency through the quartet of opener Tim Paine (50), skipper Ponting (74), Cameron White (51) and Michael Hussey (73). Watson clipped the first ball of the series for four off Praveen but the opener fell to Ashish Nehra and at five for one, Australia had to buckle down against a hint of swing in the morning air.
Ponting (74, 85b, 8x4, 2x6) was initially cramped against Nehra before he found relief in a square-driven four. Ponting also comfortably handled his twin bug-bears Harbhajan and Ishant Sharma while the Indian fielders lacked buzz.
Meanwhile, Paine (50, 62b, 9x4), flicked Ishant and reverse swept Harbhajan and shared a 97-run second-wicket partnership with Ponting. Paine succumbed to Ishant (three for 50), who largely found his rhythm in a first spell of 7-0-27-1.
At the other end, Ponting threaded his drives and hooked a six off Nehra and White (51, 68b, 3x4, 1x6) too joined the act, swatting a few over mid-wicket. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja ruffled Ponting’s pads but the runs flowed as Man-of-the-Match Hussey (73, 54b, 8x4, 1x6) cut Harbhajan, glanced Nehra and carted a huge six off Praveen.
The Indian bowlers managed to strike in the batting Power Play between overs 43 and 47, grabbing three wickets while conceding just 33 runs as Australia failed to score 300. It was small consolation on a nerve-racking day for M.S. Dhoni’s men.