WTC final: India struggle as Australia dominates opening day

Travis Head and Steven Smith’s partnership puts Australia in commanding position

| Updated: 07 June, 2023 11:54 pm IST
Md Siraj gave India the breakthrough (Photo Courtesy @ICC)

NEW DELHI: The debate that raged on before the World Test Championship final at The Oval continued to be the topic of discussion as India found itself boxed to the wall at the end of the first day’s play.

At stumps on Day I, Travis Head and Australian vice-captain Steven Smith added 251 runs for the unbroken fourth wicket as India’s wayward bowling failed to make the most of the early overcast conditions.

It is the conditions that prompted Indian skipper Rohit Sharma, who was leading the side for the first time in an overseas tie, to drop seasoned campaigner R Ashwin – one bowler who had managed to keep Australians quiet in recent times.

At the toss, Australian skipper Pat Cummins admitted that he would have preferred to bowl first had we won the toss, but both Head, who scored his first overseas ton, and Smith, who was just five runs short of his 31st Test ton, put the Australians in the driver’s seat.

In a commanding display of batting prowess, Head (146*, 156b, 22×4, 1×6) and Smith (95*, 227b, 14×4) led Australia’s charge as India struggled to contain the Australian batters. Their partnership propelled Australia from 76 for 3 to a commanding 327 for 3 at stumps.

Head’s century was not only his first in a World Test Championship final but also a significant milestone as he remained unbeaten on 146 off 156 balls, including 22 boundaries and a six. His exceptional performance ensured Australia’s dominance throughout the day.

India’s decision to opt for a fourth fast bowler, leaving out spinner Ashwin, drew attention and raised eyebrows. Although this strategy worked for them against England in 2021, it did not yield the same results against Australia.

Perhaps influenced by the grass cover on the pitch and the overcast conditions, India expected their four-man pace attack to exert control. However, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur failed to provide the desired control, conceding 129 runs for just one wicket in their combined 32 overs.

Shardul Thakur picked the big wicket of David Warner but otherwise disappointed (Photo Courtesy @BCCI)

 

Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj made a solid start with the new ball, conceding only 29 runs in the first hour and dismissing opener Usman Khawaja for a duck. Their disciplined bowling raised hopes of further breakthroughs.

However, the introduction of Umesh and Thakur as change bowlers allowed the Australian batsmen to capitalise on loose deliveries. Umesh, in particular, provided David Warner (43, 60b, 8×4) with a half-volley in just his second ball, and subsequently conceded boundaries square and behind the wicket on the offside.

While India now faces an uphill battle as they seek to regain control of the match, Australia’s commanding position at the end of day one sets them up for a formidable total and puts the pressure squarely on India’s bowlers.

Day two will be crucial for India as they strive to make early breakthroughs and contain the Australian batsmen. A determined fightback will be essential to limit the damage inflicted by Head and Smith, as India aims to stage a comeback and keep their hopes alive in the World Test Championship final.

BRIEF SCORE (At Stumps On Day 1): Australia 327/3 (Travis Head 146*, Steve Smith 95*, D Warner 43; Md Siraj 1/67, Md Shami 1/77, Shardul Thakur 1/75) vs India

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