Vadodara: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 here 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.
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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.
In the morning, the Australia top-order took a heavy toll of the listless Indian bowling attack and raised a big total.
Australia suffered an early blow, when Watson fell off the eighth ball, before recovering superbly through a near-century stand between Ponting and Paine.
The sound beginning was built upon by half-centuries from White and Hussey as the Indian bowling, which has struggled of late, was put to the sword in merciless fashion.
India began their chase in style with Virender Sehwag hitting Lee's first two deliveries for successive boundaries.
Lee eventually settled score by getting rid off Sehwag by having the batsman caught for 13 in 11 balls.
India lost another big wicket when Sachin Tendulkar drove a wide ball from Watson up into a packed off-side field and Ponting took a blinder at short cover-point.
Virat Kohli, playing in company of Delhi teammate Gambhir, steadied the rocking ship with a stand of 58 in 75 balls and the pair raised the 100 in the 19th over when Kohli fell to Adam Voges.
Gambhir and Dhoni then strung a partnership of 64 runs with diligence for the fourth wicket before Mitchell Johnson first removed the left-hander and then caught and bowled Suresh Raina to leave India at 183 for five in the 37th over.
It was left to Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja to guide India home but the Indian skipper got out soon, trying to loft Watson and giving a tame catch to Lee at mid on.
For Australia, Johnson led the bowling with two for 59, while Watson secured 2 for 70.