Mahendra Singh Dhoni's valiant half-century helped India avoid the blushes against Bangladesh in the first one-day international at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka, on Thursday.
Set a stiff target of 251 in 47 overs, India looked in all sorts of trouble at 144 for 5 in the 29th over, but Dhoni, who used a runner for most part of his innings after being down with cramps, hit and unbeaten 91 as India posted 251 for 5 in 46 overs. The five-wicket victory gave the tourists a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
It was not a typically flamboyant, attacking knock from Dhoni; the Jharkhand wicketkeeper was made to work for every single run on a hot, humid afternoon. He hit seven boundaries in his 106-ball knock, adding 107 runs for the unbroken sixth-wicket with Dinesh Karthik.
Karthik, his wicketkeeping rival now in the team purely as a batsman, also used his grey cells to the best in scoring 56.
Actually, their batting was a lesson for their other highly-accomplished team mates who failed to fire yet again.
Rahul Dravid (22), Virender Sehwag (30) and Yuvraj Singh (1) failed to play the big innings, something that is expected from them.
Earlier, opener Javed Omar top-scored with 80 to guide Bangladesh to a competitive 250 for 7 in their 47 overs.
Part-timer Dinesh Mongia was the most successful Indian bowler, claiming 3 for 49 in his 10 overs.
Left-hander Saqibul Hasan scored a brisk 50, adding 108 runs for the third wicket with Omar to lay the foundation for the innings.
The match was reduced to 47 overs-a-side after light rain delayed the start of play by 45 minutes.
Home captain Habibul Bashar had no hesitation in electing to bat on winning the toss. He obviously wanted to post a decent target and then unleash his left-arm spinners, like he had done in the five-wicket win over India at the World Cup.
India, on their part, tried to counter that tactic by including two left-handers in Gautam Gambhir and Dinesh Mongia, the latter also can prove handy with his bowling.
Bangladesh blossomed after a casual start, courtesy young left-hander Tamim Iqbal, who was his usual self, looking to attack every possible opportunity. The left-hander was lucky to survive a caught behind chance before opening his account, in the second over to S Sreesanth. Television replays showed a faint edge, which was not ruled out by the umpire.
Javed Omar got off the mark with a cracking boundary through the off-side off Zaheer Khan. Tamim then showed his class, producing a lovely straight boundary off Sreesanth and then followed it up with a lofted one over the point region. Tamim laid into Zaheer in the next over, the fifth of the innings. He hit a straight drive and then creamed one through the covers as Bangladesh started to accelerate.
For the Indians, it seemed a repeat of the World Cup story, when a Tamim-led assault knocked the stuffing out of the Indian bowling.
In the seventh over, Tamim (18) got another reprieve when he slashed at a wide delivery. The resultant edge flew at a good height, but wicketkeeper M S Dhoni and Virender Sehwag just stared at each other as the ball sped between them. The left-hander also time and again charged down the pitch to Zaheer Khan, but mostly failed to connect.
The pair flourished till the 17th over, when Tamim fell to part-time spinner Dinesh Mongia. The left-hander, frustrated by the slow run-scoring in the last few overs, tried to take charge but was caught at long-on by Sehwag for a well-made 45.
Captain Habibul Bashar gifted his wicket away when he tried to charge Ramesh Powar and was caught by Gautam Gambhir at mid-on for 0.
Playing in his last one-day tournament, Bashar faced a lot of flak for his poor batting at the World Cup and he did his cause no good with the shot. It also gave the Indians a wonderful opportunity to claw their way back into the game after that fine start by Bangladesh.
The experienced Omar then set about building the innings together with a good partnership with Saqibul Hasan. While Omar was quite content to look for the singles, Saqibul was the one looking to force the pace.
Omar reached his half-century, his tenth in ODIs, off 84 balls, inclusive of five boundaries and a six.
The innings, though slow at that point, gradually gained pace. Saqibul was the catalyst, as he played a couple of cheeky shots, the most remarkable ones being the chip shots played over the short fine leg fielder off the pacers.
Just when Omar appeared heading towards what would have been a well-deserved century, he was run out in the 39th over. But his job was done; he had set the stage perfectly for a lower order assault in the final overs. Not surprisingly, the 30-year-old got a standing ovation from the Bangladeshi fans in the stadium.
Saqibul was the next to fall, stumped by Dhoni off Mongia for 50 as he tried to lift the scoring rate in the final overs.
As the temperature out in the middle began rising, it got hot in the new, swanky air-conditioned press box too. A long power failure made it uncomfortable for all the journalists.
Mohammad Ashraful played another handy innings, hitting 29 off 22 deliveries, inclusive of three boundaries, before he was bowled by Mongia. Aftab Ahmad fell leg before wicket to Sehwag for 16 and Mohammad Rafique was dismissed off the last ball of the innings for 11.
Bangladesh's final total of 250 for 7 in 47 overs could well prove to be a mountain for the Indians.
Also, one must keep in mind's India recent track record of traditionally not being the best when it comes to chasing down targets.
The batting hasn't lived up to expectations recently, the team failing to cross the 200-run mark against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at the World Cup.
India desperately need to win this one and regain self-belief, while for the hosts, it is a chance to prove that their World Cup victory was no fluke.
On a pitch that is getting slower and slower, and with a bunch of left-arm spinners, Bangladesh may well be fancying their chances.
India got off to a flying start, courtesy Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Both the openers hit a flurry of boundaries and it was clear that India had come out with a set game plan of attacking in the initial overs.
But the Bangladeshi team kept fighting and didn't hold back even in the face of the onslaught. Their efforts paid off when Gambhir fell leg before wicket to Syed Rasel for 21 (17 balls), to a delivery that kept low in the fifth over of the innings.
Dhoni was sent in at number three, with an obvious plan of keeping up the run-rate. The right-hander has an impressive record at number three, having scored 543 runs in 9 innings at an average of 64.25.
Sehwag, meanwhile, continued in his usual attacking vein. But his wicket also fell at the wrong time as far as India was concerned. He hit four consecutive boundaries off Rasel in the seventh over before he fell, caught in the covers. Saqibul produced a good diving catch in the cover region to send him back for 30 off 21 balls, which was inclusive of seven boundaries, just when he threatened to run away with the game.
Yuvraj Singh's innings (1) ended tamely, when he offered a simple catch to the cover fielder after being deceived by a slower delivery from Shahadat Hossain. India suddenly looked a bit shaky, having been reduced to 63 for 3 in the 10th over.
Dravid made just 22 before he offered a simple catch to the point fielder off left-arm spinner Saqibul Hasan. His horror run against Bangladesh continues. Before this match, the Indian captain had scored 133 runs in 8 matches at a below-par average of 26.60.
Being the senior-most batsmen in the side and in the absence of stalwarts like Tendulkar and Ganguly, Dravid was expected to lead from the front, but, unfortunately, he failed, leaving India with a tall mountain to climb after being reduced to 112 for 4 in the 21st over.
Near the half-way stage India were 120 for 4 in 23 overs and once again their weakness against left-arm spin came to the fore.
Dhoni and Dinesh Mongia then tried to resurrect the damage with some sensible batting in the middle overs against the slow bowlers. But then disaster struck as India lost the wicket of Mongia, caught at midwicket off Saqibul for 25. India were now in trouble at 144 for 5 in the 29th over. With only one recognized batsman left in Dinesh Karthik, it remained to be seen whether Dhoni, who was struggling with cramps, could bail the team out from this difficult position.
He reached his half-century, his 13th in ODIs, off 67 deliveries inclusive of five boundaries, in the 31st over.
Karthik praised by many for his cricketing intelligence, showed why he is so highly rated as one of the best thinking cricketers in the country. He settled down nicely as the two wicketkeepers slowly but steadily got back India in the game. With no batsmen to follow, the two made sure they took minimum risks and concentrated on singles and twos off every possible delivery.
In fact, between the 30th over and 40th over, they scored 61 runs, but only hit a boundary each.
Karthik reached his half-century in style, hitting a straight boundary off Rasel in the 46th over. The shot also brought up the 100-run partnership for the sixth wicket as the crowd started to leave the ground, with a cloud cover promising heavy rain hovering above.
Karthik finished unbeaten on 58 from 60 balls, with four boundaries.
Dhoni batted on one leg for most part of his innings after suffering from heavy cramps, but that didn't stop him from playing one of his best knocks.
He finished unbeaten on 91 from 106 balls, inclusive of seven boundaries, as India reached 251 for 5 in 46 overs.
A smile and relief was writ large on Dravid's face at the end. And why not?
India will now be hoping to produce a much-improved performance when the teams meet in the second match on Saturday and seal the series.