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27 Nov 2020 19:04:05

Smith, Finch hit tons as Australia beat India in tour opener

Smith, Finch hit tons as Australia beat India in tour opener

Contrasting centuries from skipper Aaron Finch and Steve Smith set Australia up for an early lead in the three-match ODI series. The pair's hundreds formed the bedrock of the hosts' mammoth 374/6 in Sydney that proved too tall a mountain to climb for India, reports Cricbuzz.

The visitors' top-order faltered in the tall chase against some clever bowling form Josh Hazlewood, who ripped through the batting in his opening spell to leave them 80 for 3 after the PowerPlay, nullifying a terrific response that saw India raise their first fifty in just 25 deliveries. Despite fighting half-centuries from Hardik Pandya (90) and Shikhar Dhawan (74), India could muster only 308/8 in reply.

Mitchell Starc struggled for control up front, bowling three wides in the opening over, and following it up with a front-foot no ball that Dhawan flicked effortlessly to midwicket. A boundary more off the free hit made it a big 20-run over to set the tone for India's chase. At the other end, Mayank Agarwal went after Hazlewood, fetching back to back fours in the 12-run over, and India were off to a flier.

It all went pear shared from there on with Hazlewood making a strong comeback in the second half of his six-over spell to send three of India's top-four on their way back. Agarwal and Virat Kohli's wickets were just shrewd improvisation on the go as he banged the ball short and into the body on both occasions upon seeing the batsman shape up for premeditated shots. Both Agarwal and Kohli were cramped for room, and ended up offering sitters that Australia gleefully accepted. Two balls after Kohli's departure, Shreyas Iyer erred by leaving his bat hanging as he tried to get out of the way of a well-directed bouncer, and Alex Carey had ample time to settle under the ball that lobbed up right from the middle of his bat. Just after India went past the 100-run mark, KL Rahul contributed to the trend of unfortunate dismissals as he picked Smith at cover with precision off a low full toss from Adam Zampa to gift Australia another wicket on the platter.

Pandya and Dhawan then offered some resistance with their 128-run partnership for the fifth wicket, keeping India abreast with the asking rate, even ahead of Australia's comparative score for most part. But the four wickets upfront, and a rather long tail, prevented them from going all out. Nonetheless, Pandya overtook Dhawan in no time to bring up a 31-ball 50. He went after Zampa to fetch two sixes and a four from the seven deliveries he faced from the spinner in his opening spell. Maxwell came under the attack too, with Pandya fetching a four and two sixes more in an over to raise the fifty ahead of the opener. While the spinners could do very little to challenge the pair, Finch resorted to pace and was momentarily able to stem the flow of runs.

Pandya broke the shackles after five overs of inactivity, dispatching a rather rusty Starc to the fence twice in the 29th over. He kept India's hopes alive in the improbable chase until the 39th over, even after Dhawan's dismissal for 74, who tamely chipped an Adam Zampa delivery to Starc at mid--off. However that wicket multiplied the pressure on him as well. The combination of a climbing asking rate and a growing number of dots took a toll on Pandya, who gave Zampa the charge but couldn't clear Starc at long-on. He fell 10 short of what could have been a maiden ODI century, but was nonetheless his personal best. Navdeep Saini, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammad Shami all struck some heavy blows towards the end during their brief stay in the middle, but it was too little too late in the day for the visitors who crashed to an inevitable 66-run defeat.

Australia's victory was set up by Finch's 17th ODI hundred and Australia's third fastest century in the format from Smith, who played an uncharacteristically aggressive hand, and with typical supporting acts from David Warner upfront and Glenn Maxwell at the backend. Finch put on two-century partnerships, adding 156 for the opening stand with Warner, who made a 76-ball 69 himself, and then another 108 with Smith. His departure paved the way for a vintage Maxwell cameo, before Smith went on to notch up a 62-ball hundred as Australia gathered 110 runs in the final ten overs, more than making up for their slow start.

With the wicket doing very little to assist the bowlers - any kind - all Finch and Warner had to do was not waste their start. India's new-ball pair of Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah were miserly at the start, but Finch got Australia going with a boundary off the latter in the fourth over and went on to raise 5000 ODI runs in the following. Bumrah's wicketless first spell meant he's bowled 26 overs in the PowerPlay this year without grabbing a wicket. The story wasn't any different for India on the whole either, with the Australian openers adding 51 in the first-10, subjecting them to their fourth consecutive wicket-less powerplay of 2020.

The acceleration began in the middle overs, with the onset of spin, and Yuzvendra Chahal bore the brunt of it, with both Finch and Warner picking him with ease to squeeze in some big overs. It also helped that India's fielding was sloppy, and bowling sluggish. Finch raised the 150-run stand in the middle of the 28th over, just before losing Warner on 69. It was Shami who got India the desperate breakthrough, on review, inducing a faint edge off the opener's bat with a yorker length delivery.

However, that brought India little respite as Smith wasted no time to get going, toying with the field to fetch runs at will. And once the fifty was up, the former captain effortlessly switched gears. Even two quick wickets - that of Finch on 114, and Marcus Stoinis for a duck - failed to deter him or the incoming batsman Maxwell. The duo seemed to have shed all inhibitions, as well as their patchy form from three weeks ago in the IPL.

Maxwell brought out the sweeps almost as soon as he took guard. Kohli brought Chahal back on, given the wristspinner has had the wood over the Australian allrounder in ODIs with four dismissals to his credit. However, Maxwell followed a switch hit with a reverse sweep for six to fetch 10 off the first two deliveries he faced from the spinner. He capped off the 21-run over with another six, this one ferried over the fence by Pandya, who failed to pouch the catch back-pedalling at long-off.

Similar treatment was meted out to Navdeep Saini, who bowled the 44th over for 15 where Maxwell scooped a length ball over deep midwicket for six, and followed it up with back to back boundaries at the end. Shami put an end to his blitzkrieg, but his game-changing 19-ball 45, in a brisk 57-run stand with Smith, gave Australia the momentum in death overs. After hitting pause for a brief period when Maxwell did all the talking, Smith resumed the carnage enroute the record century. Shami's 3 for 59 was the only solace for India on a day the bowling was carted all over as Australia racked up the third highest total ever against them.

Brief scores: Australia 374/6 in 50 overs (Aaron Finch 114, Steve Smith 105, David Warner 69, Glenn Maxwell 45; Mohammad Shami 3-59) beat India 308/8 in 50 overs (Hardik Pandya 90, Shikhar Dhawan 74; Adam Zampa 4-54, Josh Hazlewood 3-55) by 66 runs.