Steve Smith brushed aside a predictably-frosty welcome at the Ageas Bowl as his match-winning century guided Australia to a 12-run victory over England as both sides continued their World Cup preparations.
Smith and team-mate David Warner were both taking on their old Ashes rivals for the first time since their year-long ball-tampering bans expired, and – although both men were barracked on their way to the crease – the former was seemingly oblivious as he made an accomplished 116.
While the jeers and accompanying chants of ‘cheat’ were to be expected, Smith may have been surprised to notice both his fifty and his century marked by generous applause from the more moderate members of the 11,500 in attendance.
None of England’s batsmen were able to match his class as they were dismissed for 285 and, although the match goes down as little more than a friendly, they surrendered an undefeated run of seven matches since the start of the summer.
That will not concern the hosts half as much as an injury to Mark Wood though, the seamer struck down with a left foot injury that required scans just 24 hours after captain Eoin Morgan fractured a finger.
Four successive fifties for Steve Smith now, averaging 164* in 50-over cricket since his return! World Cup on notice. #AUSvENG— Dave Middleton (@Dave_Middleton) May 25, 2019
Wood began brightly for England, serving notice of his express pace before hitting the jackpot with a slower ball that Aaron Finch lobbed to mid-on.
Wood was off the field soon after, as was his substitute Jofra Archer. He lasted less than an over before heading off in apparent discomfort, though he re-emerged after a break and was later added into the batting line-up.
With England’s numbers running thin, the call went out to assistant coach Paul Collingwood.
On the eve of his 43rd birthday and eight months on from his professional retirement, he changed into Wood’s kit, took up his old watch at backward point and let nobody down.
Warner had progressed happily to 43 and was eyeing the first half-century of his comeback when he went after Liam Plunkett.
The ball sailed high into the leg-side but straight into the hands of the sprinting Jonny Bairstow, Warner’s one-time Ashes enemy and recent Sunrisers Hyderabad team-mate.
The change of batsman offered the perfect storm for the critics in the stands, Warner heckled on his way out and Smith on his way in. The impact on the latter was non-existent, as he quickly settled into a familiar groove.
Liam Plunkett enjoyed a profitable day, adding the wickets of Shaun Marsh, Alex Carey and Nathan Coulter-Nile, but could not control Smith.
He tucked into pulls, drives and steers on the way to 50, which brought the first duelling reactions from the fans but a low-key acknowledgement from the batsman himself.
Smith needed only 42 balls to convert, reaching 99 with a flashy six off Ben Stokes then scooping Plunkett for another audacious maximum.
When the end came it was curious, what seemed like a bump ball going down in the book as a caught-and-bowled for Tom Curran with one ball of the innings left.
The chase was not a daunting one by England’s recent standards but their fearless opening pair were quieter than usual.
Jason Roy was dropped on nought by Smith, a ‘gimme’ at slip, but had yet to find his feet when Kane Richardson drew an awkward chip on 32. Bairstow, meanwhile, barely made a dent before returning the earlier favour by gifting Warner a catch.
Ben Stokes fared no little better, eking out 20 before stepping away to attack Nathan Lyon and losing his bails.
The innings was stalling when Jos Buttler (52) emerged and promptly received a short, sharp energy shot.
The stand-in skipper dashed to a 30-ball half-century, brutalising Nathan Coulter-Nile in the process.
The seamer’s first eight deliveries at Buttler disappeared for 30, including four boundaries and two mighty sixes, but the ninth was a charm.
Having seemed unconquerable, Buttler’s timing for once eluded him as a leading edge drifted in slow motion to Usman Khawaja.
As the game entered its last 10 overs, England still needed 61 – a feat that proved too tricky for the tail end.
Five of the lower order lost their wickets in the nervy denouement, bested by strong death bowling, with Chris Woakes 40 not enough to carry the day.
India’s World Cup preparations got off to the worst possible start, with their batting and bowling falling well short of expectations in their warm-up match against New Zealand on Saturday.
Batting first in overcast conditions at The Oval, Virat Kohli’s team had no answers to Trent Boult’s swing as the much vaunted Indian batting line-up was reduced to 91-7 before a fighting fifty from Ravindra Jadeja added some respectability to the total.
The Kiwis had no trouble chasing down the target with only Jasprit Bumrah making an impact in his four overs, giving away two runs, while the rest of the attack was handled expertly. Wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal made hardly any impact, adding to India’s misery.
However, it was the capitulation against the moving ball that is of greater concern as this is not the first time it has happened this year.
DE JA VU
In the five-match ODI series in New Zealand earlier in the year, India were given a lesson for the ages in the fourth ODI – having already taken a 3-0 lead in the series – as they were shot out for 92 on a seaming pitch with Boult leading the way then again with five wickets.
In the fifth and final match of that series, India were once again staring down the barrel at 18-4 before a superb fightback from Ambati Rayudu and Vijay Shankar put them right back in the contest by taking the total to an eventually match-winning 252.
What those two matches showed was that no matter how good a form the Indian batting line-up is in, they can fold like a pack of cards if there is some help for the seamers.
Pitch today nothing like you would find in the main games. Not as much work has gone into it. So take India’s batting performance with a pinch of salt.#ICCWC2019— Sanjay Manjrekar (@sanjaymanjrekar) May 25, 2019
The main reason for India’s troubles against the moving ball in ODIs is the absence of an established middle order. With the World Cup just days away, India are still sorting out their middle order combination with no clarity over the No4 position. The top three of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are worth their weight in gold but against the swinging ball, the openers especially are sitting ducks.
Only captain Kohli and keeper MS Dhoni seem to have the game to bat out a majority of the overs and put up a competitive score. Otherwise, it is left to the likes of Hardik Pandya, or Jadeja as was the case on Saturday, to put some runs on the board.
BUMRAH OR BUST?
Another concern is the over-reliance on Jasprit Bumrah with the ball. New Zealand were content to play out the four overs of Bumrah and go after the rest of the attack, with Mohammed Shami looking the second most impressive bowler. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the wrist spinners simply don’t inspire any confidence at the moment and that leaves a gaping hole of at least 20 overs which India need to suddenly fill.
Former captain Smith and team-mate David Warner have recently returned from year-long bans for their roles in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal and the renewal of hostilities with their Ashes rivals brought the expected jeers as they arrived and departed the crease.
The heckling was far from deafening, though, and Smith was even treated to respectful clapping as he brought up his fifty and hundred in the away team’s 297 for seven.
For England the greater concern of the day was an injury scare for Mark Wood, who exited midway through his fourth over and headed for the pavilion with pain in his left foot, joining Eoin Morgan (finger) and Adil Rashid (shoulder) in the treatment room.
Although Wood is the biggest worry, particularly given long-standing problems with his left ankle, there were also dicey moments for Jofra Archer and Liam Dawson.
Archer was due to be rested until he replaced the departing Wood, only to take a knock within moments of entering the fray. He re-emerged later in the innings to dispel concerns but then Dawson was struck on the hand backing up Joe Root’s throw, splitting the skin in his right ring finger. The latter was immediately advised not to bat in the chase.
Amid these various frights there was the unusual sight of England’s assistant coach Paul Collingwood arriving as an emergency fielder wearing Wood’s kit. The former one-day captain, who turns 43 on Sunday, was pressed into service to make up the numbers despite retiring from competitive cricket last September.
Wood made England’s first breakthrough, seeing off Australia skipper Aaron Finch, before exiting in pain. Warner fared better, managing 43 before flapping Liam Plunkett to wide long-on, the first of four wickets for the seamer.
There were boos and heckles for the departing batsman and his replacement, Smith, but the latter continued his rich vein of form since reintegration to the national side.
His previous three innings had yielded 89 not out, 91no and 76 and this time he reached three figures in style, getting there in 94 deliveries and finishing with eight fours and three sixes.
Plunkett’s four for 69 were the pick of the England bowling figures, with one success each for Wood, Tom Curran and Dawson.