Steve Smith and Travis Head capped off an impressive display by Australia against India on the first day of the World Test Championship 2023 final at the Oval London on Wednesday.
Australia ended Day-1 with Travis Head and Steve Smith powering the Baggy Greens to 327/3, staying unbeaten at their respective scores of 146 (156) and 95 (227) respectively.
India skipper Rohit Sharma’s decision of bowling first initially seemed to have paid off. However, Head and Smith’s unbeaten partnership of 251 runs put the Australians in the driver’s seat at the close of play on Day 1.
Head, who laid into the Indian attack since arriving at the crease at the fall of Marnus Labuschagne, became the first player to score a century in the WTC final.
Head struck the century in 106 balls, striking 22 fours and one six.
Smith and Head continued their onslaught in the final session and ensured that they stayed unbeaten at the close of play.
Indian bowlers’ struggles became more and more evident with each passing over. They threw everything they had at Head and Smith but couldn’t dislodge the pair.
Smith played the anchor’s role to perfection while Head took the aggressive approach, scoring at a brisk pace. The Indian bowlers didn’t bowl well to Head at the start of his innings, allowing him to settle in.
Smith, on the other hand, showed signs of struggle early on. He got away with a few edges that didn’t carry to the slip cordon and took his time finding his rhythm. However, once he found his bearings, he was hard to stop.
With both players in sync, the Indian bowlers couldn’t break the partnership. By the end of day’s play, the pair had put Australia in a commanding position.
Earlier, Australia reached a healthy 170/3 with Travis Head and Steve Smith standing on the crease with scores of 60(75)* and 33(102)* respectively.
India began the second session in a similar way as they did the first, with speedster Mohammad Shami sending back Marnus Labuschagne for 26(62).
Shami struck off his very first ball after lunch with a delivery that was pitched right up, inducing Labuschagne into a drive. However, he missed the ball completely as it sneaked through his defence and clipped the bails.
In-form Travis Head then joined Smith at the crease and the left and right-handed pair then picked up the pace of scoring.
Both batters looked to find the fence every over, signalling their intent to push the scoring along. In the first 10 overs of the second session, both batters struck a total of seven boundaries.
For the next four overs, however, Australia struggled to keep the scoreboard ticking over. However, they picked up the momentum again in the 38th over, with Shardul Thakur delivering two no-balls and conceding three boundaries.
As India managed to put a leash on the Aussie scoring rate, Travis Head brought up his 50 off 60 balls, with a four. At the end of 44 overs, Australia were 160/3.
In the next seven overs, Australia managed to score just 10 runs, ending the second session at 170/3.
During lunch, India managed to strike early after sending down a couple of maiden overs back-to-back. Australia opened their account with a double from David Warner on the 16th ball of their innings.
With the pressure building on the Australian openers to keep the scoreboard ticking over, Usman Khawaja fell for a 10-ball duck, nicking one-off Mohammed Siraj to wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat.
Siraj got one to move slightly away from the southpaw and Bharat managed to latch onto a regulation offering.
Marnus Labuschagne arrived at the crease at No.3 and went about settling Aussie nerves in the dressing room in the company of Warner.
The duo of Siraj and Shami kept, however, kept Warner and Labuschangne on a leash, bowling precise lines and lengths with occasional bumpers.
Australia managed to reach the 50-run mark in 14.5 overs.
Warner, however, took the pressure off Australian batters in the 16th over, taking 16 runs off Umesh Yadav. The veteran India pacer conceded four boundaries in a single over, with the Aussies getting some much-needed momentum into their innings.
Labuschagne survived a couple of confident LBW shouts from the Indians and soaked in all the pressure that was brought to bear on them.
Warner was in sight of another half-century when all-rounder Shardul Thakur induced an edge off his willow, which was safely lapped up by stumper Bharat. Warner’s promising innings was cut short at 43 off 60 balls. Steve Smith managed to negotiate the final few deliveries leading into lunch.
Brief Scores: Australia (Travis Head 146(156)*, Steve Smith 95(227)* and Mohammed Siraj 1/67) vs India.