Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar added a whirlwind 84 for the eighth wicket, but it wasn’t enough as India still fell short by four runs chasing Australia’s impressive 292/8 in the first ODI at Vadodara. If only the top and middle-order of India had put up some better resistance on a pitch that was not difficult to bat on, Praveen and Harbhajan’s effort would not have been in vain or, to be honest, it might not have been needed. Instead they floundered and ended up conceding the advantage to Australia.
Things started on a positive note when Virender Sehwag, in his peerless style, eased Brett Lee for consecutive boundaries from the first two balls of the innings. However, it was too brief to have any impact as the pacer had his revenge soon, having him caught behind for 13 of an away-going delivery. From there on, it was all downhill for India until the final flourish, with only Gautam Gambhir holding fort with a measured 68. Sachin Tendulkar, opening the innings, looked completely out of sync and air-drove a wide delivery from Shane Watson straight into the hands of Ponting at short-cover. Virat Kohli and skipper MS Dhoni contributed 30 and 34 respectively. However, they both fell when India needed them to carry on for much longer.
The turning point, though, ended up being the dismissal of the well-set Gambhir. The left-hander fell off the first ball of the batting Powerplay when Mitchell Johnson got one to swing enough to beat his defence and trap him in front of the stumps. After that, there was a procession of wickets, which was halted only by blitzkriegs from Praveen and Harbhajan. The duo gave India a realistic chance after they slammed 20 from the penultimate over of the innings bowled by Shane Watson, a number of them full tosses. Nine were needed from the final over, but unlike Watson the less experienced Peter Siddle kept his calm. He cleaned up Harbhajan one short of his 50 and ensured Australia took the crucial lead in the series.
Earlier in the day, steady contributions from a number of their batsmen and shoddy bowling and fielding from the opposition meant that Australia ended up posting a healthy total on board. Ashish Nehra did provide India the early breakthrough, sending back the in-from Watson lbw with one that beat him for pace and movement. But Australia recovered magnificently with all the next four batsmen producing half-centuries against an ineffective Indian attack, and Tim Paine consolidated and then attacked before Cameron White and Mike Hussey carried on the good work, the latter providing the final flourish. He and Johnson took 18 off the 49th over bowled by Praveen. This included an outrageous six by Hussey, which cleared the ground and had even the batsman raising his eyebrows in a ‘wow! how did I manage that’ moment.
Hussey fell for a magnificent 73 from 51, enough to earn him the man of the match. Ishant Sharma was the pick of the Indian bowlers, claiming 3/50 – two of them coming in the last over – while Nehra ended up with 2/58. The other two regular bowlers were highly disappointing though. Praveen went for 77 bowling his full quota and Harbhajan yet again failed to make an impact. Ravindra Jadeja was more impressive, sending back the well-set Ponting and even restricting the runs.
At the end of the day, however, Australia had enough firepower to overcome whatever resistance India put up and win the opening battle.
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