Praveen Kumar and Harbhajan Singh's batting heroics took India agonisingly close to a sensational win before the hosts slumped to a four-run defeat against Australia in the first match of the seven-ODI cricket series in Vadodara on Sunday.
At 201 for seven in their pursuit of a 293-run victory target, India seemed heading for a comprehensive defeat before Praveen (40 not out) and Harbhajan (49) came up with a defiant 84-run stand off 57 balls for the eighth wicket that nearly took them home.
Much to the disappointment of the crowd, India eventually managed 288 for eight, put together by cameos from Gautam Gambhir (68), Virat Kohli (30), MS Dhoni (34), Praveen Kumar and Harbhajan.
Earlier, Ricky Ponting (74) led from the front and was amply supported by Mike Hussey (73), Tim Paine (50) and Cameron White (51) as the visitors rattled up 292 for eight after opting to bat first on a featherbed track.
Faced with the daunting task of scoring at 5.86 per over, the star-studded Indian line-up came a cropper against some disciplined bowling and tight fielding to be left struggling at 201 for seven with the last 10 overs remaining.
Harbhajan and Praveen brought down the target to 30 from the last 15 balls and then nine from the last six.
But once Harbhajan departed off the second ball of the final over from Peter Siddle, India lost the momentum and Australia stopped the hosts four runs short of their total.
Earlier in the innings, Gambhir played the sheet-anchor's role after the cheap dismissal of openers Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar to topscore with 68 off 85 balls with six fours and a six in it.
Dhoni and Kohli, surprisingly promoted to number four in the batting order, made starts before getting out when in their 30s.
After being 167 for three in the 35th over, the Indians lost three quick wickets Gambhir, Suresh Raina (9) and Dhoni while adding only 19 runs and it became 201 for seven at the fall of Ravindra Jadeja in the 40th over.
Harbhajan and Praveen kept the hosts in the hunt with some lusty hits to raise visions of a come-from-behind victory, but in the end it proved of no avail.
With this win, Australia surged to their second successive victory at this venue over the home team, having beaten the hosts by nine wickets in 2007 at this ground.
The thrilling victory put the visitors 1-0 up in the series ahead of the second day/night encounter at Nagpur on October 28.
Though India came close, their top-order batting, bowling as well as fielding were thoroughly exposed by the Australian team which is riding on a high after whipping England 6-1 and then retaining the Champions Trophy in South Africa.PTI