Australia survive late onslaught from tailenders

VADODRA: 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 today.

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 whirlwind and shared 84 runs off 57 balls with Kumar for the eighth wicket, but his dismissal in the penultimate over turned the match in Australia’s favour.

Needing nine runs for a win in the final over, India managed 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 a fighting 68 but India’s chances were severely affected by the early dismissals of Virender Sehwag (13) and Sachin Tendulkar (14).

Australia were indebted to captain Ricky Ponting (74) and Michael Hussey (73), who ensured a stiff target for India. India’s chase began on a shaky note as they lost opener Sehwag in the fifth over, caught behind by Tim Paine off Brett Lee (1-28).

Tendulka lost his wicket in tame fashion, holing out to Ponting after facing 39 balls and hitting just two fours. Ponting hit eight fours and two sixes in his 85-ball knock and put on 97 runs with Paine (50). Hussey 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. The Australians did well to regroup after the early dismissal of Shane Watson.

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 one-day internationals. The second match of the series will be played in Nagpur on Wednesday.