India's path to the semifinals got a lot tougher after a six-wicket loss to Australia in the Women's World Cup here on Saturday as the Meg Lanning-led side became the first to qualify for the last four stage with a record chase in tournament history.
Half-centuries from skipper Mithali Raj (68 off 96 balls), Yastika Bhatia (59 off 83) and Harmanpreet Kaur (57 not out off 47) steered India to 277 for seven.
The total had never been chased before in tournament history but Australia's ominous form and batting friendly conditions at Eden Park meant that they cruised to their fifth win in as many games.
Openers Alyssa Healy (72 off 65) and Rachael Haynes (43 off 52) got Australia off to a flier with a 121-run stand before skipper Lanning (97 off 107) took the team on the cusp of victory.
Jhulan Goswami needed to defend eight runs off the final over but Beth Mooney (30 not out of 20) got the job done in the first three balls.
The path to the semifinals has become tougher for India after their third loss in five games. The 2017 edition runners-up play their remaining games against South Africa and Bangladesh.
"When you lose you always feel you are 10-15 runs short. I think the way Australia started the innings, were always ahead of the asking rate. The fielders couldn't back up the bowlers.
"The batting is something we wanted to improve and we did. We need to do well in all departments in the remaining games. Next two games are must win," said Mithali after the game.
If batting was a concern for India before the game, Australia chasing down a stiff target with ease has given the bowlers plenty to ponder over.
Healy was the aggressor alongside the in-form Haynes and toyed with the Indian attack -- be it pacers or spinners.
The likes of Jhulan Goswami and Meghna Singh were either too full or too short early on and Healy was quick to punish them with a flurry of cover drives, cut shots and pulls.
When India's best spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad came into the attack, Alyssa used the sweep shot brilliantly to put more pressure on the opposition. India playing a bowler less in the absence of Deepti Sharma also did not help their cause.
With Australia marching to victory at 225 for two, a passing shower stopped proceedings at Eden Park but play resumed shortly and Australia completed the job with little fuss.
Earlier, Mithali and Yastika steadied the Indian innings with a 130-run stand for the third wicket after Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma fell cheaply.
With India slipping to 213 for six from 158 for two, Harmanpreet came up with a much-needed counter attack to take the team well past 250. Pooja Vastrakar once again provided the late flourish with 34 off 28 balls.
Pooja and Harmanpreet blasted 64 runs off 47 balls in their seventh wicket stand with India picking 52 runs in the last five overs.
India decided to strengthen the batting by bringing back opener Shafali at the expense of all-rounder Deepti Sharma, who had batted at number four in the previous two games.
Yastika, who batted at three with Shafali joining Smriti at the top, scored her first half century of the tournament batting alongside veteran Mithali, who dropped herself a place down to number four.
The skipper also got back amongst the runs after a lean run by her lofty standards in the first four games.
Both Mithali and Yastika found it tough to rotate the strike early on in their innings before they found their rhythm. They used the late cut to good effect against spinners Alana King and Ashleigh Gardner, who were not at their best on the day.
The captain also hit a straight six off left-arm spinner Jess Jonasen en route to her first half-century of the competition.
After both Yastika and Mithali perished trying to accelerate, Harmanpreet rose to the occasion and ensured her team set up a competitive total.
The T20 skipper, who was even dropped from the playing eleven before the World Cup due to prolonged lean patch, reached her third 50-plus score in the tournament proving that she is a big tournament player.
Harmanpreet used her trademark sweep shot off both spinners and pacers to put pressure on the opposition. She was helped by Pooja who smashed couple of sixes and a boundary to end the innings on a high.
A usually disciplined Australia bowled as many as 24 wides to help India's cause.