Updated: November 28, 2020 7:55:08 am
It was a turbo-charged start to the Australian summer, with captain Aaron Finch setting the tone with his 17th ODI century. His efforts were put in the shade by Steve Smith’s superlative 66-ball 105, the third-fastest ODI century by an Australian, and Glenn Maxwell’s entertaining cameo that fuelled the home team to 374/6, their highest score against India. The chase was always going to be arduous, but India were in the hunt till the 39th over when Hardik Pandya was at the crease. In the end, though, Australia sauntered home with a comprehensive 66-run win.
Smith’s fast hands
During lockdown, when cricketers found time to reassess and fine-tune their skills, Smith was waging a battle of his own. Something was amiss about the positioning of his hands on the bat handle. “I felt very uncomfortable about my hands. Something was not right,” he had told cricketaustralia.com.au. The search for his hands proved to be an exercise in futility as shown by his tepid return in the IPL — just 311 runs from 14 games.
However, just days before the first ODI against India, the 31-year-old declared he had found the way out. “I think in the last few days actually I’ve found something. People close to me that know me well, I’ve found my hands the last few days, which I’m really excited about,” he said.
The fast hands are a Smith speciality as it allows him to manoeuvre balls pitched on leg-stump through the off-side or flick an outside-off delivery through the mid-wicket region with ease. There was one particular shot against Shami that illustrates this point. It was full outside off, but Smith somehow managed to scoop it over mid-on.
Unlike in the IPL, Smith had the luxury of a comfortable platform and time at his disposal as Australia’s irrepressible opening pair of Aaron Finch and David Warner had notched up a 159-run stand in a shade under 28 overs. He kick-started by sashaying down the track to Yuzvendra Chahal and depositing him over mid-wicket fence. Between overs 36.3 to 37.3, Smith went on overdrive, ransacking four boundaries off five deliveries. He got a reprieve on 38 when Shikhar Dhawan grassed him at the long-on boundary. Perhaps, the opposition and the venue also played a part in Smith’s roaring return to form. His last five ODI knocks against India read: 69, 98, 102, 131 and 51.
Also, the SCG was the ground where he had scripted that masterful century against the same opponents in the 2015 World Cup semifinal. Smith was involved in two match-defining partnerships: 108-run stand for the second wicket with Finch, and the manic 57-run alliance with Maxwell that surged Australia to a match-winning score.
Maxwell comes to the party
For all the talent that he possesses, the enigmatic Glenn Maxwell has been frustratingly inconsistent.
Just when it looked like he had turned a corner after a match-winning century in the series-deciding ODI against England in September, Maxwell endured another dip in form in IPL, where he mustered only 108 runs, at a below-par average of 15.42 that led Virender Sehwag to. term him as “Rs 10-crore IPL cheerleader”.
Walking in at No.5, Maxwell began with a rasping cover drive off Jasprit Bumrah, before unfurling two back-to-back switch hits against Chahal — the first raced to the third-man boundary and the second sailed over backward point for a maximum.
The audacious manner in which he tore into Chahal — his nemesis in bilateral tournaments and IPL — was a sight to behold.
Hazlewood’s bouncer barrage
Josh Hazlewood gave further proof to why he is the finest Australian pacer across format by prising out Mayank Agarwal, Kohli and Shreyas Iyer. Sample Agarwal’s exit: The opener has shown the proclivity to step back and play the hoick over the off-side. Hazlewood banged it short and followed Agarwal, cramping him up for room and resulting in a top-edge to point.
Kohli’s scalp was the most satisfying, because he had just got a reprieve and looked in imperious touch. Another short length delivery got the Indian captain trying to manufacture an outlandish pull shot, which was gobbled up by Finch at midwicket. Hazlewood then stunned Shreyas Iyer with a brute that kept rising sharply. Iyer, who has a history against short balls, could only awkwardly fend it to wicket-keeper. Till two years back, Zampa was a one-dimensional bowler but with time he has not only mastered the wong’un, but has also developed subtle changes in pace. All these skills helped the leggie pick up four wickets tonight, including that of in-form Dhawan and Hardik Pandya, whose 128-run fifth-wicket partnership had threatened to take the game away from Australia.
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