The evening began with a tinge of anticipation. Sachin Tendulkar’s march towards 17,000 One-Day International runs was much awaited. Sadly as darkness descended, the fans were left frantically hoping that at least India would win at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium here on Monday night.

However, hopes were dashed as India suffered a 24-run defeat against Australia in the fourth ODI of the Hero Honda Cup seven-match series as Ricky Ponting’s men turned it around to draw level at 2-2. India’s batting ineptitude ruined Ashish Nehra and company’s fine bowling effort that skittled out Australia for 250 in 49.2 overs.

Flatters to deceive

India’s pursuit began with a merry splash as Virender Sehwag, who was cleared fit to play in the morning, pummelled left-arm seamer Mitchell Johnson. Sehwag’s breezy 30 (19b, 7x4) proved to be a false appetiser as he found a levitating Shane Watson at mid-off while trying to loft the impressive Doug Bollinger (three for 38).

Tendulkar (40, 68b, 6x4) meanwhile was a mix of caution and the creamy cover drive. However, he was a touch unlucky as Nathan Hauritz’s delivery seemed headed beyond leg stump when Asoka de Silva raised his finger while the 17,000 summit remained seven runs away. The duo of captain M.S. Dhoni (26) and Yuvraj Singh (12), for once failed to get going and also gritted their teeth through five minutes of distraction when a few fans moved near the sightscreen.

Young guns fail

Amidst the meltdown, India’s young turks Virat Kohli, who replaced an injured Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja had an opportunity to deliver under pressure but they failed. Meanwhile, Australia tightened its grip and though Johnson was caned in all his spells, and Harbhajan Singh (31) and Praveen Kumar (16) threatened to repeat their futile heroics of Vadodara, the match was pocketed with ease. India scored 226 in 46.4 overs while Man-of-the-Match Shane Watson (three for 29) ensured that the tail did not wag forever.

Earlier, Australia lost the plot in the slog overs as the Indian bowlers and fielders struck in tandem. The Aussies mustered 49 runs from the last 10 overs with the batting Power Play (overs 45-49) yielding a meagre 27 while four wickets tumbled to snuff out Ponting’s initial hopes of a 280 plus score.

After Dhoni won his first toss of the series and opted to field, he found vindication in the tight spells by Nehra and Praveen.

Nehra’s (three for 37) late hint of swing beat Shaun Marsh and the left-arm seamer was soon patting the turf in delight.

Strangely the remaining batsmen in the Australian top-order — Watson (49), Ponting (52, 59b, 5x4, 1x6), Cameron White (62, 71b, 3x4, 1x6) and Michael Hussey (40) — enjoyed their starts but failed to construct that one defining innings, which could have gifted the team an imposing total.

Combined effort

Credit is also due to the Indian bowlers who found their mark though Ishant Sharma proved expensive while the fielders rifled in four run-outs, the best being Jadeja’s throw that left Ponting stranded.

After Marsh’s dismissal, Ponting and Watson played their strokes on a pitch with even bounce and the duo shared a 64-run second-wicket partnership. Ponting punished Ishant with lofted drives past long-on and long-off before Harbhajan (two for 48) prised out Watson.

Later Ponting tested Jadeja’s shoulder and regretted. Hussey walked in, with three consecutive fifties bolstering his confidence, and quickly settled into a cameo while White drove Ishant to distraction.

Just as the 73-run fourth-wicket partnership promised more, Hussey swatted Yuvraj straight down deep mid-wicket’s throat and the Australian innings’ downward spiral began though later in the night, India’s free-fall was worse.

The Scores

Australia: S. Watson c Dhoni b Harbhajan 49 ( 52b, 6x4), S. Marsh lbw b Nehra 5 ( 23b), R. Ponting (run out) 52 ( 59b, 5x4, 1x6), C. White (run out) 62 ( 71b, 3x4, 1x6), M. Hussey c Ishant b Yuvraj 40 ( 41b, 2x4, 1x6), M. Henriques st. Dhoni b Harbhajan 6 ( 13b), M. Johnson b Nehra 8 ( 15b), G. Manou (run out) 7 ( 6b), N. Hauritz (not out) 9 ( 11b), P. Siddle c Jadeja b Nehra 1 ( 5b), D. Bollinger (run out) 0 ( 1b); Extras (lb-1, w-9, nb-1): 11. Total (in 49.2 overs): 250.

Fall of wickets: 1-24 (Marsh), 2-88 (Watson), 3-123 (Ponting), 4-196 (Hussey), 5-217 (Henriques), 6-226 (White), 7-236 (Johnson), 8-241 (Manou), 9-247 (Siddle).

Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 37/1; Bowling (11-15): 36/0; Batting (45-49): 27/4.

India bowling: Praveen 9.2-0-41-0, Nehra 8-0-37-3, Ishant 5-0-42-0, Jadeja 7-0-27-0, Harbhajan 10-0-48-2, Yuvraj 10-0-54-1.

India: V. Sehwag c Watson b Bollinger 30 ( 19b, 7x4), S. Tendulkar lbw b Hauritz 40 ( 68b, 6x4), V. Kohli c Manou b Bollinger 10 ( 16b, 1x4), Yuvraj (run out) 12 ( 21b), M.S. Dhoni c Manou b Bollinger 26 ( 46b, 2x4), S. Raina b Hauritz 17 ( 30b), R. Jadeja (run out) 7 ( 21b, 1x4), Harbhajan c & b Watson 31 ( 25b, 5x4, 1x6), Praveen c Manou b Watson 16 ( 19b, 3x4), A. Nehra c Hauritz b Watson 7 ( 8b, 1x4), Ishant (not out) 3 ( 8b); Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-20, nb-1): 27. Total (in 46.4 overs): 226.

Fall of wickets: 1-40 (Sehwag), 2-78 (Kohli), 3-94 (Tendulkar), 4-113 (Yuvraj), 5-145 (Dhoni), 6-156 (Raina), 7-177 (Jadeja), 8-204 (Harbhajan), 9-217 (Praveen).

Power Plays: One (1-10): 54/1; Bowling (12-16): 27/1; Batting (40-44): 39/1.

Australia bowling: Johnson 9-0-74-0, Siddle 5-2-15-0, Bollinger 9-2-38-3, Henriques 7-0-33-0, Hauritz 9-1-31-2, Watson 7.4-1-29-3.

More In: Cricket | Sport