The adrenalin was reserved for the end

Harbhajan and Praveen... brought the crowd to its feet.-PICS: S. SUBRAMANIUM

The match lived up to its top billing thanks largely to the belated heroics of Harbhajan Singh (49) and Praveen Kumar (40 not out). The cracker of a match started with Shane Watson’s confident four and ended with Ashish Nehra’s heart-breaking single as India lost by four runs! Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

A crane flew across the turf, gliding through the morning air. The setting was pastoral and probably those were the only moments of peace and quiet at the Reliance Stadium before a frenetic day of cricket dawned with India taking on Australia in the opening game of the seven-match Hero Honda Cup One-Day International series in Vadodara on October 25.

The match lived up to its top billing thanks largely to the belated heroics of Harbhajan Singh (49) and Praveen Kumar (40 not out). The cracker of a match started with Shane Watson’s confident four and ended with Ashish Nehra’s heart-breaking single as India lost by four runs! Chasing Australia’s 292 for eight in 50 overs, India scored 288 for eight in 50 overs and Ponting, with relief palpable in his voice, said: “Happy to be 1-0 up. I would have been disappointed if we hadn’t crossed the line after playing well for a large course of the match.”

The feared openers, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, showed intent when they stepped across the ropes early while the Australian team was busy in its huddle of team-talk. That sense of urgency was amplified when Sehwag pounded two fours off Brett Lee’s first two deliveries and an interesting chase seemed on the cards as Tendulkar flicked and drove Peter Siddle.

The fans were thrilled before silence crept in with both Sehwag (13) and Tendulkar (14) failing to strike wing. Sehwag was done in by Lee’s away-swing and Tendulkar, hemmed in by a packed off-side cordon, drove Watson straight to Ponting. At 45 for two, India was up against a target that was getting more distant.

Gautam Gambhir (68, 85b, 6x4, 1x6) found his fours through the off-side besides running hard for his singles along with Virat Kohli (30), who flattered to deceive. The duo’s 58-run third-wicket partnership was cut short when Kohli chanced his arms against Adam Voges. Captain M. S. Dhoni walked in and buckled down against a stiff challenge. “We wanted to keep wickets in hand and then go for the runs in the batting power play,” Dhoni later said but it was a plan that went awry as left-arm seamer Mitchell Johnson with his natural angle zooming into the left-hander, trapped Gambhir in front as the southpaw tried to nip a single to the leg-side. Gambhir’s dismissal off the first ball of the batting power play that commenced in the 35th over meant that India had lost a well-set batsman.

The jitters became worse when Suresh Raina, now used to the customary bouncer-greeting from fast bowlers, fended against Johnson before succumbing to the slower delivery. Dhoni (34) too fell, failing to get past a levitating Lee at mid-on after he had swatted Watson, and with Ravindra Jadeja failing to last beyond 13 deliveries, despair hung like a shroud in the Indian dressing room.

“When you are chasing a big total, you need runs from the top-order. That didn’t happen and we had just one fifty (Gambhir) from the top-six,” Dhoni said.

Michael Hussey... full of hustle and bustle.-

However, Harbhajan (49, 31b, 4x4, 3x6), who throughout his career has strived hard to ruin the Aussies’ best-laid plans, had ideas of doing a ‘Houdini act’. Harbhajan along with Praveen (40 not out, 32b, 5x4, 1x6) hustled Ponting’s men and helped the fans regain their voice in the stands through their 84-run eighth-wicket partnership off 57 balls that was marked by the tail-enders’ usual bravura in a losing cause.

Harbhajan shuffled across in the crease to unhinge the bowlers and with Watson and Co., striving for yorkers and slipping a few down the leg-side, fours were pocketed with ease. Praveen too displayed a few inside-out shots on the off-side as the required-equation boiled down to 29 from 12 deliveries. Harbhajan and Praveen clattered 20 runs off Watson before Siddle, bowling the last over, did a reality-check in the last over. He castled Harbhajan and in the end, Nehra ran a futile single off the last ball.

“We bowled badly in the last 10 overs,” Ponting said after being hamstrung by Lee’s inability to bowl more than six overs due to a sore elbow. “Harbhajan and Praveen set up the game for us but…,” trailed off Dhoni.

Earlier, Australia constructed its innings on four fifties as opener Tim Paine (50, 62b, 9x4), Ponting (74, 85b, 8x4, 2x6), Cameron White (51, 68b, 3x4, 1x6) and ‘Man of the Match’ Michael Hussey (73, 54b, 8x4, 1x6) relished taking first strike after winning the toss. Watson struck a four off the very first delivery of the series, bowled by Praveen but succumbed to Nehra before Ponting stepped in and along with the rest, provided runs and momentum to the innings.

Ishant Sharma bowled a tight first spell in which he dismissed Paine. Ponting meanwhile flourished against old tormentors — Ishant and Harbhajan — as he seemed set for a bigger innings before left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja scalped the Australian captain. White essayed powerful shots while Hussey proved to be the surprise packet, etching a knock full of kinetic energy in which the high-point was a massive six off Praveen. The visitors, however, lost the plot in the slog overs and the expected 300-plus total never happened. In the end, their score proved just about adequate.


First ODI, Vadodara, Oct. 25. Australia won by four runs.

Australia: S. Watson lbw b Nehra 5, T. Paine c Dhoni b Ishant 50, R. Ponting lbw b Jadeja 74, C. White c Raina b Nehra 51, M. Hussey c Kohli b Ishant 73, A. Voges c Gambhir b Harbhajan 3, J. Hopes (run out) 14, M. Johnson (not out) 14, B. Lee b Ishant 0. Extras (lb-2, nb-2, w-4): 8. Total (for eight wickets in 50 overs): 292.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-102, 3-151, 4-227, 5-233, 6-256, 7-291, 8-292.

India bowling: Praveen 10-0-77-0, Nehra 10-0-58-2, Ishant 10-0-50-3, Harbhajan 10-0-57-1, Jadeja 9-0-39-1, Raina 1-0-9-0.

India: V. Sehwag c Paine b Lee 13, S. Tendulkar c Ponting b Watson 14, G. Gambhir lbw b Johnson 68, V. Kohli c Watson b Voges 30, M. S. Dhoni c Lee b Watson 34, S. Raina c & b Johnson 9, R. Jadeja lbw b Hauritz 5, Harbhajan Singh b Siddle 49, Praveen Kumar (not out) 40, Ashish Nehra (not out) 2. Extras (lb-10, w-14): 24. Total (for eight wickets in 50 overs): 288.

Fall of wickets: 1-25, 2-45, 3-103, 4-167, 5-183, 6-186, 7-201, 8-285.

Australia bowling: Lee 6-0-28-1, Siddle 9-0-55-1, Watson 10-0-70-2, Johnson 10-0-59-2, Hopes 2-0-10-0, Voges 4-0-22-1, Hauritz 9-1-34-1.