Melbourne, Feb 14:
Co-hosts Australia thrashed traditional rivals England by 111 runs to win the cricket World Cup opener at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here Saturday.
Chasing Australia’s mammoth total of 342/9 in 50 overs, England were bowled out for 231 in 41.5 overs.
Aaron Finch scored the first century of this World Cup and punished England for dropping him in the first over the match. Eoin Morgan sent Australia in, hoping that rain overnight and in the morning would have left some moisture in the surface. By the end, the only notable dampness was the cold sweats of the England players, who needed a record total to win the match.
Remarkably, the innings finished with a hat-trick from Steven Finn, who claimed wickets with each of the last three balls of the innings. Brad Haddin was caught at third man, Glenn Maxwell snared brilliantly by Joe Root at long-off, and Mitchell Johnson slapped a catch to mid-off. Finn finished with 5 for 71 and the first ODI hat trick for England since Andrew Flintoff in 2009; England will hope the occasion gives them some momentum.
They will need it. Never before have England chased down more than 306 to win an ODI, and never before has any team pursued more than 297 to win a one-day international at the MCG. Finch built the platform for Australia but it was Maxwell who took the total into record territory, his late 66 having come from 40 balls. Like Finch, he too had been dropped.
Finch’s 135 was the fifth-highest World Cup score by an Australia batsman; his brisk 57-run opening stand with David Warner set the innings off strongly and a 146-run partnership with George Bailey steadied the innings after a few top-order wobbles. Australia’s final 10 overs brought them 105 runs as England’s death bowling was exposed: too few yorkers, too many length balls and short deliveries.
It could all have been so different. James Anderson found some swing in the first over of the game and his fourth ball beat a nervy Finch outside off, before the next one was flicked uppishly off the pads. At square leg, Chris Woakes misjudged the chance above his head and dropped what he should have taken, letting Finch off the mark and off the hook.
David Warner also offered a tougher chance driving Anderson to mid-off on 7, but his reprieve was less costly; on 22, Warner’s stumps flashed after he missed an attempted whip through leg off Stuart Broad’s cross-seam delivery. Broad was on a hat-trick when he drew an edge behind first ball from Shane Watson, and an accurate yorker was the perfect follow-up, but Steven Smith kept it out.
However, Smith showed he was mortal when he chopped on off Woakes for 5, and at 70 for 3 Australia were suddenly in some trouble. Their opening stand had sent a message – 18 runs were plundered off Anderson’s third over and the fifty partnership between Warner and Finch came from 37 balls.
Finch had launched the attack when he lofted Broad back over his head safely for four, but he showed he could change pace as he and Bailey steadied the innings. They went 58 balls without a boundary as they ensured no further damage was incurred and the situation also allowed Bailey, who entered the game out of form, to regain his bearings a little.
The run-rate began to pick up when England used their spinners; Finch’s eyes lit up like the zing stumps when Joe Root was given the ball. Root’s first delivery was clubbed to long-on and his third was launched in the same region for six, but he was also starting to go after the fast men again, with a six crunched over long-off when Anderson went fuller and wider.
Finch’s hundred came from his 102nd delivery when he flicked Finn to fine leg for a boundary, and his celebration was a Warner-style running leap in the middle of the pitch. It was Finch’s sixth ODI century but none have meant as much as this one, on World Cup debut, in front of his home crowd. He joined David Boon as the only Australian to make a World Cup ton in Australia.
England had another chance to dismiss him on 123, when he swept Ali and took off for a run before turning back; James Taylor’s throw from short fine leg was so high that Jos Buttler had to leap to take it, and had no hope of whipping off the bails. It was indicative of England’s ordinary day in the field; half-chances were missed, throws were awry, misjudgements were made.
It was left to the captain to remedy the issue. On 135, Finch struck the ball fiercely to mid-off and took off for a single. He struck it too well, though, and Morgan’s direct hit found Finch not even in the TV frame. Finch chastised himself as he walked off, but he had done his job and then some. Australia’s batting depth did the rest.
Bailey scored his first ODI half-century since the first match of the home summer in November. His 55 was the highest score by an Australia batsman on World Cup captaincy debut. He chopped on to Finn, but that allowed some quick scoring to come from the rest of the order. Maxwell showed his intent by reverse sweeping his third ball for four off Ali, and launched from there.
At times he used the pace to help the ball on its way behind square, at other times he cleared room and clubbed in front. He was given a life on 42 when his top edge off Finn escaped the wicketkeeper Buttler, but the shot was typical of Maxwell, and was one of four consecutive boundaries.
Mitchell Marsh made a quick 23 and Haddin scored 31 off 14 balls as part of the late assault. That Haddin came in at No.8 having opened at the previous World Cup was in indication of Australia’s batting depth. In their first match of this home World Cup, it is now up to their bowlers to back the batsmen up.