Bangalore: Weighed down by a merciless Australian batting assault, India buckled under pressure of chasing a huge total as the world champions warmed up for the summit showdown with a comfortable 61-run victory in the TVS Cup triangular cricket series here on Monday. After Australia posted a mammoth 347 for two riding on blistering centuries by Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar led a spirited Indian fightback with a classy 89 before the hosts lost steam to be stopped at 286 for eight in their allotted 50 overs in an absorbing floodlit encounter at the M Chinnaswamy stadium.
The Indians, who desperately needed victory to bolster their chances of making it to the November 18 final in Kolkata, were outplayed in all departments of the game by the formidable Aussies who recorded their fifth consecutive victory in the series. The only consolation from the defeat was the bonus point the hosts got which has tied them on points with New Zealand, both teams having ten points from five matches. The Australians, who have already qualified to the final, widened their lead atop the points table having garnered 28 points from six outings. India have no option but to defeat New Zealand in their last match in Hyderabad on Saturday to make it to the majestic Eden Gardens in Kolkata for the summit showdown.
Earlier, electing to bat, Australia piled up 347 for two, the highest-ever score at the venue, with Gilchrist (111) and Ponting (108 not out) tearing the Indian bowling to shreds. In reply, only Tendulkar could hang around for long as Sehwag (39), Sourav Ganguly (37) and Rahul Dravid (34) got the starts but could not build the innings that compounded India's misery. The Indian run chase began in right earnest with Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag stitching 103 runs for the opening wicket to provide a solid foundation. Sehwag, who had not played the last match against New Zealand due to an injury, struggled to find his rhythm in the initial stages being beaten repeatedly by the two Australian new ball operators Brad Williams and Michael Kasprowicz.
Tendulkar, who has been in very good nick, set the tempo by slamming Kasprowicz for two boundaries in his very first over but the Indians could not really pick up the runrate with Sehwag struggling to get the runs at the other end. The Delhi player was lucky to get a longer tenure at the crease as Mathew Hayden dropped a rather simple catch at first slip when he was on six, Kasprowicz being the unlucky bowler. In the same over, Sehwag got another life when Damien Martin spilled a difficult chance at the cover region much to the delight of a capacity crowd. After scratching around for a while, Sehwag unleashed a flurry of strokes, picking up Andrew Bichel for some special treatment by clobbering him for 16 runs in the 15th over of the innings.
Tendulkar, on the other hand, looked quite comfortable as he did the bulk of the scoring during the partnership that raised hopes of a spirited Indian fightback. The opening pair put on 103 runs in 17.3 overs before Ian Harvey provided the breakthrough for the Aussies by evicting Sehwag for a 53-ball 39. Sehwag went for an attacking shot but missed the ball completely as it hit low to dislodge his stumps. The stylish VVS Laxman, who joined the action after Sehwag's dismissal, put on 45 runs for the second wicket with Tendulkar before falling prey to spinner Michael Clarke, trying to accelerate the score. Laxman made room to play a drive on the off-side but failed to connect the ball properly and Andrew Symonds pulled off a spectacular catch at extra cover to reduce the hosts to 148 for two in 25 overs.
Skipper Sourav Ganguly, returning to the team after a fairly long injury induced lay- off, got down to run scoring business immediately as he clobbered Clarke for three consecutive boundaries to put the run chase back on track. Tendulkar, who notched up his 64th One-day half century by slamming Harvey to the boundary, kept the run flow going without taking too many risks.
While Tendulkar displayed his class by executing some glorious shots on both sides of the wicket, Ganguly was also prompt to dispatch the loose deliveries to the fence as the duo tried to salvage the situation for the hosts. But a big jolt awaited the Indians in the 29th over which saw Harvey getting the prized scalp of Tendulkar much to the relief of the Australians. The batting maestro was bowled by a ball that skidded and kept low, hitting his pads first before dislodging the stumps. His 91-ball 89 contained 12 boundaries and a mighty six.