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Australia has got its Indian summer off to the perfect start with a victory at the SCG – although primarily thanks to a comprehensive batting performance carrying through some ropey bowling efforts.
Both teams toiled in the field as the action went beyond 11pm (AEDT) in Sydney, with the two cricket juggernauts set to resume battle on Sunday back on the same field.
Here’s what we learned from Friday’s thriller!
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Hazlewood spares bowler blushes
Australia’s bowlers owe Josh Hazlewood a beer (or at least a hearty thanks). He certainly got them out of trouble more than once as India looked poise to explode.
First it was fellow quick Mitchell Starc, whose 20-run, 11-ball first opener put the Aussies in all sorts of early trouble.
Australia’s fear factor in the first ODI rapidly dissipated in the space of one trainwreck over that lasted 11 agonising balls.
Mitchell Starc is one of the game’s best ever ODI bowlers but he looked anything but on Friday night as he sent down Australia’s first over of the summer against India.
It was one to forget for the left-armer who sent four wides – one went to the boundary – and a no ball that gave India a free hit, as Australia’s total of 374 dwindled in quick time.
When Starc eventually completed six legal deliveries and the free hit, a whopping 20 runs had been added to India’s total, making it the second-most expensive opening over in ODI history.
That appeared to set the tone in the early stages of India’s chase. The following over from Josh Hazlewood went for 12, while India was 0-46 after just four overs.
Adam Zampa also let down the bowling corps when he committed the cardinal sin of dropping the great Virat Kohli.
Luckily for the duo, Hazlewood fought back with three wickets in the space of overs 5-10 to put Australia back on track. Without that response, it could have been a very different story for Australia.
Zampa, however, made amends for his poor fielding with a handy performance with the ball in hand. He bagged a wicket on just his third ball – though that was thanks to a healthy dose of luck on a poor full-toss – and showed plenty of variation and confidence.
How did Cummins drop this?
Kohli’s SCG struggles continue
He may just be the greatest One Day player of all time – an argument we’ll leave for another day – but Virat Kohli has a simply woeful record at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
In six ODI innings at the venue, he has amassed just 57 runs. Friday night’s 21 is actually his top score! With one not-out, his average is a measly 11.40 with a strike rate of 64.04.
Remarkably, that makes his ODI average at the SCG his third-worst of any ground around the world.
Kohli advances, Kolhi caught!
Compare that to his staggering overall figures in the format. He averages 59.14 from his 240 innings, with 43 centuries at a strike rate of 93.26.
But in a contest against his great Australian batting rival, Steve Smith, Kohli was thoroughly outshone – and the SCG is quickly becoming something of a bogey ground for the great batsman.
Kohli was lucky to get away with an early lifeline when he was dropped, but began hitting the ball sweetly and looked ready to really hit the gas in India’s chase – only to cough up his wicket cheaply soon afterwards.
It’s not the same story in other formats, where Kohli hasn’t struggled at the ground. In Tests, he averages 49.60 from five innings at the SCG, including one ton – a touch shy of his career average of 53.62.
But in T20s, Kohli has played just two innings at the SCG. The first, in 2016, he scored 50. Two years later it was 61* – giving him a healthy average of 111!
Whatever the reason for Kohli’s One Day struggles at the SCG, Australia will only be hoping it continues when the teams rejoin battle again on Sunday.
Zampa drops the KING!
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The wake-up call that spurred Steve Smith on to historic 62-ball century
20 runs, four wides, one over — Starc’s nightmare start the second worst ever
Smith finds his hands
Steve Smith said during the week that he had found his hands, and boy, he wasn’t lying.
Whatever was aling him during the Indian Premier League appears to be solved as Smith struck the ball across the SCG as cleanly as he ever has.
The gun No.3 still suffered a shaky start – he overturned an lbw dismissal on 15 while his first 30 runs came off 30 balls. But that was where his troubles ended.
From there, Smith went on a rampage that should send shivers down India’s spine heading into a long summer of cricket.
He smoked 11 fours and four sixes, making the last 70 runs of his century in just 32 deliveries.
Smith’s 62-ball ton is the third-fastest in Australian ODI history.
“I’ve been searching for something for a couple of months now and unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it,” Smith told Fox Sports after the game.
“But it was something three days ago, I started to hit the ball where I wanted to, the rhythm came back and everything came back. I was pretty happy with that.”
Every Steve Smith boundary!
Rust strikes – but doesn’t hurt a ripping contest
There was no shortage of breaktaking cricket in the first ODI, but it certainly had its rusty moments.
All parties could be forgiven due to the lack of cricket this year and the fact most players have only just left hotel quarantine. And besides, even the clumsy moments made for some entertaining play.
Mitchell Starc was probably the worst offender, his woeful first over reminding us of a park cricketer desperately hunting his range after a long winter away from the nets.
But he was far from the only man to struggle with a lack of recent time on the park.
Finch and Warner – known for their sharpness in between wickets – had multiple mix-ups which India failed to cash-in on.
The dot balls stacked up early for Finch who took a while to find his rhythm, while the same could be said for Smith who was on 30 off 30 balls before things suddenly clicked and he made a rapid 62-ball century.
India was particularly guilty for sloppiness in the first innings as it put down four catches and missed a simple run-out.
Maxwell drops a sitter!
Australia then looked wobbly in the field too, as it leaked 40 runs off the first four overs, while Adam Zampa dropped the prized wicket of Virat Kohli. Cummins lost a high ball in the lights and Glenn Maxwell also dropped a chance.
Even the Indian captain, a man with the highest cricketing standards, showed some rustiness. He was guilty of a misfield in the first innings before he gave his wicket away with a mistimed pull shot on 21.
That said, there were also moments of brilliance, such as Glenn Maxwell’s explosive cameo, Smith’s dazzling century and, briefly, some clean hitting from the Indian top-order before the chase went south.
Even so, the sloppiness and the mistakes only added to the drama – and the crowd loved every minute of it.
Finch’s perfect tribute to little mate six years on from tragic death
Play halted to pay lovely tribute to Phillip Hughes on anniversary
Pakistan icon’s incredible tribute to ‘great cricketing mind’ Dean Jones
Shades of Deano: Warner accidentally creates fitting tribute to Aussie icon
India’s comedy of errors
India charge out of the blocks – a little too hard
India always faced a hard task to chase down Australia’s solid total, but some poor tactics during the second innings mean they have themselves largely to blame – and will leave captain Kohli and his coach fuming.
As Shane Warne said in commentary for Fox Cricket: “It was a flying start, but they just went too hard too early. You’ve got to remember in this back end (of the match), the way the wicket is, the way these conditions are, and the way the players can hit the ball, you can get 120 runs off the last ten overs!
“If you take that off the (target) score, they needed 250 off the first 40 overs. They didn’t have to go as hard as they did. They needed wickets in hand, take it deep (in the innings).”
After Mitchell Starc’s woeful first over, the Indian batsmen were off to a flying start. After five overs, they were 0/53 and averaging 10.60 an over. That’s significantly above the 7.48 needed to chase down Australia’s target.
But where the Australian openers calmly went about their work, building a strong foundation from which they could later explode, the Indian batsmen appeared desperate to continue their breathless assault on the target. It was almost as if they were playing as though the match was a T20, rather than a 50-over brawl.
The strategy backfired, to say the least.
Mayank Agerwal quite simply lost his head, a horrid shot choice sending him back to the pavilion.
Kohli – spurred on after being gifted a second chance – blasted two fours and a six, working his way along at a strike rate of exactly a run a ball. He too seemed intent on smashing the ball, and similarly departed. Shreyas Iyer was gone shortly afterwards, and suddenly India had gone from racing out of the blocks to being well on the back foot.
For someone who times a run chase better than anyone else, Kohli seemed in a huge hurry…
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) November 27, 2020
Part of the issue with India’s attacking mindset is the lack of batting depth down the order.
England great Michael Vaughan tweeted: This Indian ODI team is to [sic] old school for me …. Just 5 bowling options & the batting isn’t deep enough !!!”
Indian commentator Harsha Bogle replied: “It is an issue. Bowlers don’t bat and batsmen don’t bowl. And there aren’t enough 2-in-1 players coming through either”.
It is an issue. Bowlers don’t bat and batsmen don’t bowl. And there aren’t enough 2-in-1 players coming through either
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) November 27, 2020
However, Hardik Pandya and Shikhar Dhawan did manage to stabilise the apparently sinking ship, building patiently to give India a chance late in the innings.
As for the other members of the top order, their enthusiasm can be excused given the excitement of playing in front of a rowdy crowd on the back of two weeks in quarantine – and on the back of a strange and difficult year – but calmer heads will be required next time out.