Australian cricket’s lucky charm has done it again. In his ODI captaincy debut, Steve Smith produced yet another sparkling century to guide his team to victory with one ball to spare after England posted a formidable 3/303 at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval.
Smith, with the help of Glenn Maxwell (37), James Faulkner (35) and Brad Haddin (42), had the hosts cruising towards the target – which should have been more but for England’s late-order stumbles – before a near-choke in the final two overs.
England started robustly, with Moeen Ali and Ian Bell putting on a 113-run opening stand before Ali fell to Faulkner for 46. James Taylor went cheaply, but Bell and Joe Root then amassed 121 for the third wicket.
Bell’s sensational 141 off just 125 balls – featuring 15 boundaries and a six – came to an end in the 42nd over thanks to a good Mitchell Starc catch at mid-off from the bowling of newcomer Gurinder Sandhu, who then got rid of skipper Eoin Morgan caught behind first ball.
The brakes had well and truly been slapped on England’s innings, making just 59 from the last 10 overs. Wickets fell on the last three balls of the innings – the last two via run out by Brad Haddin.
Aaron Finch (32 off 32) and new opening partner Shaun Marsh (45 off 48) got Australia off to a scorching start, but England’s bowlers regrouped impressively. Ali bowled Finch, then Steve Finn claimed Marsh and Cameron White (0) in the space of three balls. Australia were teetering at 3/92.
Smith and Maxwell steadied with 59 for the fourth wicket and Faulkner helped the skipper add 55 for the fifth. But Haddin’s blistering 29-ball knock really put Australia in the driver’s seat – although the thrilling run chase was too much for one over-eager supporter on the fence.
When Haddin departed, Australia needed just seven off 14 balls. Smith brought up a 93-ball century soon after, but James Anderson’s superb 49th over incurred just three runs to provide England with a glimmer of hope.
Needing just two runs off the last over, Chris Woakes started with two dot balls and then Taylor brilliantly ran a nervy Moises Henriques out on the third. Smith scurried through for a single on the fourth ball to level the scores, before Starc calmly whacked the second-last ball away through the off side for the winning run.
Stud of the day
Bell was magnificent, but Smith’s rearguard knock – his third ton in 10 ODI innings – proved the match-winner. The 25-year-old is a marvel. He is more important to Australia’s World Cup campaign than Warner, Johnson or Clarke.
Sandhu’s one-two punch to claim the scalps of Bell and Morgan prevented England from powering to what looked a likely 330-340 total.
The fiery Australia-India rivalry heats up again on Monday in Sydney, before England and India face off on Friday to decide who will play Australia next Sunday.
Steve Smith is the first player in history to score a century on captaincy debut in both Tests and ODIs. England’s Michael Atherton and South Africa’s Kepler Wessels, with a century and 80, were the previous best.