Harare: A second-string India just about managed to survive an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a fighting Zimbabwe as the visitors huffed and puffed to a narrow four-run win to take 1-0 lead in the three-match cricket ODI series here today.
Indian players and fans had their hearts in their mouths as the the hosts needed only 10 runs off the last over but Zimbabwe skipper Elton Chigumbura's second One-day hundred was not enough to see the team through and they fell short by four runs chasing 256.
Ambati Rayudu produced a career-best unbeaten 124 and his second international century helped India recover from a top-order collapse and post a competitive 255 for six after they were inserted in by the hosts.
Rayudu, whose previous best score was 121, displayed tremendous maturity to steer India to the 250-plus score in the able company of Stuart Binny, who also made a career-best 77 off 79 balls.
As expected, it was far from a cake walk for India as Zimbabwe showed stomach for a fight before being stopped at 251 for seven.
India's bowlers were far from impressive as they consistently erred in line and length, bolwing a lot of loose full tosses.
Like India, Zimbabwe also kept losing wickets intermittently but Chigumbura kept the African minnows in hunt with his fighting 104, that came off just 101 balls.
Chigumbura's knock was not enough to seal a win but it kept Indian players on their toes and the match was not over before it was over.
Along with Graeme Cremer (27) he raised a 86-run partnership for the seventh wicket which threatened to take the match away from India but the latter played an unnecessary reverse sweep to be out in the last ball of the penultimate over.
Chigumbara was left crestfallen as he could not steer the team past the finish line despite getting so close.
Left-arm spinner Axar Patel (2/41) and Stuart Binny (2/54) shared four wickets between them while Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni took one wicket apiece.
Rayudu and Binny joined hands when India were in a spot of bother at 87 for five, but the duo showed matured heads to resurrect the innings with a 160-run sixth wicket partnership.
While Rayudu decorated his 133-ball knock with 12 fours and a solitary hit over the fence, Binny struck six boundaries and two sixes during his knock.
Apart from the duo, captain Ajinkya Rahane (34) was the only other Indian batsmen to register a double digit score.
Chamu Chibhabha (2/25) and Donald Tripano (2/48) picked up two wickets apiece for the hosts.
Earlier, India did not have the best of starts after being asked to bat at the Harare Sports Club ground.
Opener Murali Vijay (1) perished early, edging a good length delivery to Vusi Sibanda at second slip off left-arm pacer Brian Vittori in the fourth over.
With the ball doing enough to trouble the batsmen, India found it difficult to score at a quick rate and Vijay's dismissal did not help the visitors either.
Rahane, who opened the batting alongside Vijay, and Rayudu somewhat steadied the innings with a 51-run second wicket stand before India witnessed a batting collapse, which saw as many as four wickets fell in a span of seven overs.
During his 49-ball knock, Rahane struck five delightful boundaries before Tripano extracted some extra bounce and got a thick edge from the batsman which was pounced by Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza at slip.
Back into the senior side after a long hiatus, Manoj Tiwary (2) and Robin Uthappa failed to capitalise on their chances while Kedar Jadhav (5) had a forgettable debut as India lost three more quick wickets to slump to 87 for five by the 25th over.
While Tiwary was dismissed LBW by Chibhabha, Uthappa failed to open his account after he was caught short of the crease by Sikandar Raza's direct hit at the non-striker's end in the next over.
Debutant Jadhav soon became Chibhabha's second scalp when he edged a back of a length delivery to wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami.
With wickets tumbling at the other end, Rayudu needed a partner to build the innings and in Binny he found the perfect ally.
The duo played cautiously initially and kept the scoreboard ticking without taking any chances. They, however, did not let go any bad delivery that came their way.
Rayudu brought up his half-century with a single in the 29th over with the help of six boundaries.
As time passed by, the pair got accustomed to the wicket. A hard-hitting all-rounder, Binny showed his big hitting skills by launching Cremer over the long-on boundary.
Binny brought up his maiden fifty in the 45th over off Payangara which yielded 15 runs. Rayudu struck a six and four in consecutive balls off Payangara to march to his century which came off 117 balls.
Binny matched his partner stroke for stroke and used his long handle to great effect towards the end before edging a Tripano delivery to Mutumbami while going for big heave in the penultimate over.