Travis Head and Steven Smith capitalized on India’s inconsistent bowling attack in challenging batting conditions, propelling Australia to a commanding position on day one of the WTC final at The Oval. Despite the pitch offering some difficulties, Head registered his first century outside Australia, while Smith fell just five runs short of his 31st overall century.
Their partnership transformed Australia’s score from 76 for 3 to an impressive 327 for 3 by stumps. One of the major talking points of the match was India’s decision to opt for a fourth fast bowler instead of including spinner R Ashwin in their lineup. This strategy proved effective for them against England in 2021. The decision was likely influenced by the grass cover on the pitch and the overcast conditions in the morning.
However, the chosen fast bowlers, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur, struggled to maintain control and failed to produce the expected results. Together, they bowled 32 overs, conceding 129 runs and managing only one wicket. India’s opening bowlers, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj, maintained their usual effectiveness with the new ball after Australia elected to bat.
In the first hour, they bowled 12 tight overs, conceding only 29 runs and dismissing Usman Khawaja for a duck. The numerous false responses from the batsmen indicated that there were further opportunities for wickets. However, the subsequent bowlers, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur, struggled to contain the scoring rate and provided the Australian batsmen with scoring opportunities.
Umesh, in particular, started his spell with a half-volley that David Warner capitalized on, hitting it for four runs. In his second over, Umesh was targeted by the Australian batsmen, who scored four boundaries square or behind square on the off side.
David Warner would have felt he deserved the boundary after enduring a challenging first hour of play. However, India had a stroke of luck as Shardul Thakur had Warner caught down the leg side with a short ball just before the lunch break. After the break, India relied on Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami, their most likely bowlers to take a wicket. Shami delivered a brilliant first ball that seamed in and uprooted Marnus Labuschagne’s off stump.
This gave India a glimmer of hope that they could maintain the pressure for extended periods. However, Travis Head, who had lost his No. 5 position due to team selection policies in India, had different plans. With Shami targeting a left-handed batsman, being in the early stages of a new spell, and the ball still offering movement, Head faced a tough challenge. Although Shami initially troubled Head, the Australian batsman quickly imposed his attacking intent on the Indian bowlers.
Travis Head steal the show:
Travis Head wasted no time in unleashing his attacking game, even against deliveries that were slightly wide and short. He confidently crashed the fifth ball he faced for a boundary, putting India under pressure. His aggressive stroke play through the off-side left the Indian team searching for solutions.
They adjusted their field, moving a slip out to strengthen the off-side boundary, but Head was quick to exploit anything too straight, and Mohammed Siraj ended up conceding two boundaries in that area. Meanwhile, Steven Smith faced challenges with the uneven bounce and sideways movement of the pitch. However, he responded differently to the Head.
Smith chose to fight through the difficulties and consolidate his position, while Head continued his attacking approach. While Head appeared to be in better control, he also offered more false responses, as indicated by his control percentage of 69 compared to Smith’s 90.
This contrast in their roles was evident, with Smith focusing on building innings while Head counterattacked. Steven Smith capitalized on Shardul Thakur’s full and straight bowling style, resulting in a productive over for Australia. India introduced Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav in the middle session, while Thakur briefly used a leg-side attack strategy.
Smith was well-established at the crease and patient, despite the challenging situation. Australia scored 60 runs off 75 balls, while Smith contributed 33 runs off 102 balls. India opened with Umesh Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja in the final session.
India needs to pull out a strategy:
India faced India with short-pitched deliveries, and Head embraced the challenge aggressively. He bottom-edged hooks and ramped the ball, finding success. India’s slow overrate further complicated their difficulties. Head scored 32 runs off the first 18 balls, pushing them further behind.
Mohammed Siraj and Shami adjusted their field, placing a deep third man to counter Head’s ramp shots and setting up fielders for the hook. Head remained confident as he approached his century, enduring a few blows to the head. India made bowling changes, and batting became easier once again. With just 20 minutes remaining, India took the new ball, resulting in more close calls and misses. Smith concluded the day on a positive note, driving the last ball for a boundary through the cover region.