Travis Head and Steven Smith absolutely dominated India on day one

Australia 327 for 3 (Heads 146*, Smith 95*) against India

Travis Head and Steven Smith capitalized on India’s recalcitrant attack in tough striking conditions to put Australia into a WTC final at the end of day one at The Oval. Head marked his first century away from Australia, and Smith was five for 31 overall as they took Australia 76-for-3 to 327-for-3 at stumps. Head turned his century – his first in a WTC final – into a great one: an unbeaten 146 of 156 with 22 fours and sixes.

The big talking point for India remains the selection of the fourth fast bowler over R Ashwin, a strategy that worked for them against England in 2021. They may have been influenced by the 6mm grass cover thick in the field and overcast in the morning, but they didn’t find the kind of control they had. You’d expect a quick third and fourth from a fast four-man attack. Between them, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur had 32 overs for 129 runs and one wicket.

Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj were good as usual with fresh balls after India entered Australia. 12 overs in the first hour conceded just 29, resulting in Usman Khawaja’s wicket for the Ducks, and 21 wrong answers suggesting there might be another or two around the corner from the street.

However, the substitutes, Umesh and Thakur, provided relatively easy runs at various times after the start of this game. Umesh gave David Warner the second half-volley of the ball in attack and then was hit for four bounds or behind the penalty area on his second over.

Warner would have thought it was the award he deserved after playing sober for the first hour, but India enjoyed a lucky break as Thakur caught him off guard just before lunch.

India went to see Siraj and Shami, the bowlers most likely to take a wicket, after lunch. Shami’s first bullet was a peach, rushing to uproot Marnus Labuschagne’s stump. India still has a chance there if it succeeds long enough.

Head, who lost No. 5 in India’s four-way horse politics, had other ideas. Shami has a visible left-handed batsman, he just entered a new spell, the ball is still rolling, he beat Head from the start, but Head quickly made his way to India.

The fifth ball Head faced was just slightly wide and barely fired, and he dropped it for four. His attacking offside game quickly made India look for ideas. They moved the slide to put the sweeper back on the left side, but Heads quickly cashed in on anything too straight. Siraj recognizes two of these limitations.

In the short game at the other end, Smith struggled to adapt to the uneven rebound and lateral movement. The answer was different from the head. He continued to fight him while Head didn’t hesitate to attack. On the surface, Head looks better but gives the wrong answer more often than Smith: Smith’s control percentage is 90 to Head’s 69. This, again, is in their role. Smith builds, leader of the counterattacks.

Things got easier for Smith when Thakur searched too hard. Thakur was an ambitious bowler who bowled full and straight more often than anyone else. It might work when you release the pressure created by three world-class rapids. Playing as a practically speaking third player, he’s probably gone the full game too many times. Smith cashed in and went 16 laps.

With the ball still doing little for the Rapids, it was said to be India’s choice that they go to Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Umesh midway through the session. For a time, Thakur had kicked in for India in Australia, but Smith was ready and willing to push through the period.

Australia went for tea 170 for 3 with Heads on 60 from 75 and Smith 33 from 102. India started the final session with Umesh and Jadeja, the bowlers least likely to take a wicket at the time . It tells you all about the states of India.

Soon Shami was back and India started testing Heads with the short Drberita Gadget, maybe too late. Head took it, holding it out. He landed two outside hooks, but then started snatching the ball away. He wasn’t at all comfortable against short balls, but the run just kept flowing. Umesh started fleeing towards Smith from the other end.

Unfortunately, due to the excessive fare, the last two and a half hour session is starting to feel even longer for India. Head took 32 of the first 18 balls he faced in the session. Siraj and Shami then put in big deep thirds to block the ramp, put the guys on the hook and kept their backs bent. Shami throws seven spells, Siraj continues to draw uneven rebounds, Head goes through the 90s looking risky but capitalizes on his luck. He was shot in the head twice, but continued to hang on.

By the time Head raised his cent, India had been forced to switch bowls, and batting looked even easier. India took the ball fresh 20 minutes on the stumps which resulted in more plays and errors from Head but also three more limits for him. Smith ended the day with ominous coverage for four of the final balls.

Sidharth Monga is Associate Editor at Drberita

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