Skipper Smith fashions Australian victory

Cricket Triangular series: In-form batsman hammers ton on ODI captaincy debut as England tumble to defeat

Skipper Smith fashions Australian victory

Steven Smith’s century on his debut as ODI captain, albeit as a stand-in for the suspended George Bailey, eclipsed Ian Bell’s fourth career hundred as Australia chased down England’s big total to seal their spot in the tri-series final.

After being asked to bat first on a surface that offered little help for the new-ball bowlers, England batsmen put on an excellent batting show to post 303 for eight with Bell scripting a stroke-filled 141 (125b, 15x4, 1x6).

In an on-off chase, Australia, held together by Smith (102 n.o, 95b, 6x4, 1x6), replied with 304 for seven in 49.5 overs for their third consecutive win of the competition here at the Bellerive Oval on Friday.

Australia logged an unbeatable 13 points to move into the summit clash with a match to spare. The result also kept India, who have two more matches left in the tournament, very much in contention for a berth in the final.

At 92 for three, Australia had a mountain to climb but Smith stood like a rock with an innings that reflected his ability to soak up pressure. The right-hander was both the anchor and enforcer even as he received crucial support from Glenn Maxwell (37), James Faulkner (35) and Brad Haddin (42, 29b, 4x4, 1x6). Smith’s association with Haddin proved to be the clincher as the two clobbered 81 runs off just 67 balls to shut the door on England.

There was some artificial excitement when a nervous Moises Henriques brought the equation to two runs off the final three balls before he was run out. Smith collected a single off the fourth ball of the 50th over while Mitchell Starc struck Chris Woakes for another single to signal a fine win.  

It was a shame that Bell’s delightful knock had to go in vain. Easy on the eye, he isn’t someone who is given to manufacturing strokes. The right-hander gathers his runs playing orthodox shots – flowing drives through the cover region, wristy flicks off the pads and crunchy cuts square off the wicket. Bell’s innings, during which he surpassed Paul Collingwood’s aggregate of 5095 to become England’s top run-maker in ODIs, had plenty of such exquisite moments.

Bell was the rock around which England prospered and despite an inexplicable wobble towards the end, they could post the first 300 total of the series. He raised a century stand – 113 off 110 balls -- with Moeen Ali (46), who dispatched Pat Cummins for three successive sixes, for the opening wicket and plundered 121 off 114 in the company of Joe Root (69, 70b, 6x4) for the third wicket, providing England the right platform for a final assault.   

That cricket is a great leveller was manifest once again in Bell and Eoin Morgan’s contrasting outings on the day. Coming after Bell’s first-ball dismissal in Sydney in the tri-series opener, Morgan stroked his way to an excellent century against Australia.

At the Bellerive Oval, Bell followed up his unbeaten 88 against India with his career best ODI knock before Morgan fell off the first ball he faced. Gurinder Sandhu accounted for both these batsmen in the 42nd over, altering the course of the innings.

Looking good for a total anywhere around 330-340 when they went into the final stretch of 10 overs with the score reading 244 for two, England found it hard to maintain the tempo they had generated.

Starc, Pat Cummins and Faulkner, who all had failed to put a brake on the English batsmen, discovered ways to stem the flow of runs.

Jos Buttler and Ravi Bopara (seven off 16) found it hard to score off Starc’s well-directed toe-crushers as England could manage no more than 59 in the last 10 overs.
DH News Service

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