Travis Head and Steve Smith took full advantage of a lacklustre Indian bowling line-up to stitch a mammoth 251-run unbeaten stand for the fourth wicket to put Australia in the driver's seat by putting 327/3 on the board at the stumps on Day 1 of World Test Championship 2023 final at The Oval, here on Wednesday, 7 June.
The day began with India bowling first, under overcast skies and fielding a four-man fast-bowling attack, with Ravichandran Ashwin's exclusion becoming a huge talking point. They succeeded initially by reducing Australia to 76/3.
But Head came out all guns blazing to lead Australia's counter-attack as the sun came out and pitch became good to bat on, making an unbeaten 146 off 156 balls, laced with 22 fours and a six to score his first overseas century as well as the first-ever hundred in the short history of the marquee finale.
While Head was being the aggressor and was also aided in his free-flowing stroke play by Indian bowlers giving him width and overpitched deliveries on pads, Steve Smith was the gritty force from the other end. The premier batter held on despite not looking at his fluent best to be 95 not out off 227 balls, including hitting 14 boundaries.
After initially bowling well in patches and beating the bat a lot, India were very inconsistent and conceded way too many boundaries as Head and Smith piled the agony and tired them under the hot afternoon sun.
Head began the final session by driving a half-volley off Jadeja and punching Umesh Yadav through cover to collect a brace of fours. He cracked a cut past gully off Shami, before ramping off the pacer twice for four and six to get into 90s.
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Smith also began with a four, driving on width from Umesh for four, before driving twice off him through mid-on for two boundaries, to eventually reach his fifty in 144 balls. Siraj used a sharp bouncer barrage and even hit Head on helmet, who looked uncomfortable against it.
After facing a few bouncers from Shami, Head reached his century in 106 balls with a pull over backward square leg for a single. Runs continued to flow as Smith flicked off Siraj for four while Head punched Shami through cover for a boundary.
Smith took the attacking route by flicking Thakur for four, followed by dancing down the pitch to clear mid-off with a loft and timing the drive through cover to take two more boundaries.
Head had it easy from there, getting boundaries with whip, punch, loft and ramp, while Smith cleared long-off with ease. Though India took the new ball, it didn't offer much relief as Smith and Head continued to take boundaries off Shami and Siraj, with the former taking a four through an amazingly timed drive to end the day on a high.
Brief Scores: Australia 327/3 in 85 overs (Travis Head 146 not out, Steve Smith 95 not out; Mohammed Siraj 1/67, Shardul Thakur 1/75) against India.