WTC final: Head-Smith double-hundred partnership puts Australia on top
A stellar 251-run partnership between Travis Head and Steve Smith put Australia in a commanding situation against India on the first day of the World Test Championship Final at the Oval n Thursday (June 7). Head and Smith remained not out on 146 and 95, respectively.
Australia were 327 for 3 at stumps, having added 157 runs in the final session without losing any wickets. The duo added 251 runs for the unbroken fourth wicket stand.
Australia 170/3 at tea
Earlier, Head’s counter-attacking 60 off 75 balls and Steve Smith’s patient 33 in bright sunshine took Australia to 170 for three at tea.
Head played in his signature style and took the attack to the Indian pacers after Australia found themselves under pressure soon after the lunch break with the fall of Marnus Labuschagne (26 off 62).
Mohammed Shami, who was not his absolute best in the morning session, bowled a beauty for his first ball post lunch to disturb Labuschagnes off-stump. The full ball jagged back in from the fourth stump to clip the off stump.
Head joined Smith in the middle and hit a flurry of boundaries against Shami and Mohammed Siraj to put the pressure back on India. He was quick to flick anything directed towards his pads and was equally sharp with the cut shots.
Head brought up his 14th Test fifty with a crisp backfoot punch off Shardul Thakur.
Ravindra Jadeja was brought into action in the 39th over and hardly gave anything away in his seven overs.
Umesh Yadav was brought towards the end of the session but was not able to get the breakthrough.
Australia managed to get 97 runs from 28 overs in the session.
Earlier, Siraj breathed fire in his opening spell before Thakur got rid of a well-set David Warner to reduce Australia to 73 for two at lunch.
Having survived challenging conditions in the first hour at The Oval, Warner (43 off 60) and Labuschagne were on course to see off the session until Thakur dismissed the left-handed opener with a short ball targeting his rib cage. Wicketkeeper KS Bharat took a well-judged catch down the leg-side.
India expectedly opted to bowl in overcast conditions and on a pitch with fair amount of grass. They made the tough call to leave out Ravichandran Ashwin from the playing eleven for a four-pronged pace attack including Shami, Siraj, Yadav and Thakur.
Both Siraj and Shami kept Australia in check in the first hour, sharing six overs six each and conceding only 29 runs.
Siraj got more out of the surface than Shami by bowling with a scrambled seam. Usman Khawaja (0 off 10), who has an ordinary record in England, began the tour on a disappointing note as he got a faint edge off a ball that pitched outside the off stump and seamed away.
There was minimal feet movement and he paid the price for playing away from the body and the nick was taken easily by Bharat behind the stumps.
Warner, who has a point to prove in this game and cement his spot in the playing XI for the upcoming Ashes, battled with grit and took his chances every time he was offered width.
After an engrossing opening hour, India took the foot off the pedal with Umesh Yadav offering plenty of scoring opportunities to Warner, who collected four boundaries off the pacer in the 15th over.
The going was much tougher for Labuschagne, who copped a nasty blow on his left thumb from a sharp delivery by Siraj. Later in the session, he was able to survive two close DRS lbw calls off Thakur’s bowling.
As it often happens in England, the sun came out in the second hour and made batting easier.
Australia were looking to close the session strongly until Warner went for a pull off a delivery angled into him by Thakur who went wide off the crease while coming round the wicket and the batter, cramped for room, couldn’t keep the pull down.
Bharat justified his selection over Ishan Kishan with a sharp diving catch.
The Indian Cricket Team will observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Odisha train tragedy ahead of the start of play on Day 1 of the ICC World Test Championship final at The Oval.
The team mourns the deaths and offers its deepest condolences to the families… pic.twitter.com/mS04eWz2Ym
— BCCI (@BCCI) June 7, 2023
(With agency inputs)