London, Jun 7 (PTI): Travis Head struck like a tornado with a counter-attacking hundred that left an out-of-sorts Indian attack bereft of ideas as Australia made hay under bright sunshine by reaching 327 for 3 on the opening day of the World Test Championship final.
The ploy of leaving out Ravichandran Ashwin backfired once there was bright sunshine as neither Umesh Yadav nor Shardul Thakur looked under-cooked as India were completely outplayed in the second and third session with Rohit Sharma’s captaincy leaving a lot to be desired.
It was Head’s first century away from home and sixth overall. Mohammed Siraj was the pick of the bowlers for India, who have a lot of work to do going into day two.
India’s pacers tried the short ball tactic to upset the rhythm of both Smith and Head but were unsuccessful. However the short-ball tactic to unsettle Head came once he was settled down.
Siraj bowled his heart out but the likes of Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thalur lacked consistency.
Ashwin’s non-selection will be debated for the remainder of the game but at least on the opening day, there was not much turn on offer for Ravindra Jadeja who bowled 14 overs without a wicket.
“Ravichandran Ashwin’s absence is baffling,” Sunil Gavaskar said on Star Sports and his assessment couldn’t have been more apt.
Head, who has built a reputation of playing impactful innings in 36 Test old career, single-handedly change the course of the game with his aggressive approach. The fuller deliveries didn’t trouble him even one bit.
When the Indian pacers targeted his pads, the southpaw used his quick wrists to flick them away and anything short and wide on the off side was also duly dispatched.
Head brought up his fifty with a crisp back-foot punch off Shardul Thakur. He got more audacious in the second half of his innings and entered into the 90s with a six over third man off Shami.
Smith, on the other hand, was happy to bide his time while Head went about his business. India tried the leg slip tactic against him before testing him around the off-stump. Both to no avail.
Smith, who averages close to 100 at The Oval, is on course to enhance his enviable record at the venue. Australia’s batting mainstay played some gorgeous straight drives off the pacers before using his feet against the left-arm spin of Jadeja.
India took the new ball after the 80th over but Shami and Siraj were unable to provide the breakthrough. Indian fans who thronged to the venue in huge numbers went back disappointed.
Only the morning session went India’s way as Siraj breathed fire in his opening spell before Thakur got rid of a well-set David Warner (43 off 60) to reduce Australia to 73 for two at lunch.
Having survived challenging conditions in the first hour at The Oval, Warner and Labuschagne were on course to see off the session until Thakur dismissed the left-handed opener with a short ball targeting his rib cage. Wicketkeeper KS Bharat took a well-judged catch down the leg-side.
Both Siraj and Shami kept Australia in check in the first hour, sharing six overs six each and conceding only 29 runs.
Siraj got more out of the surface than Shami by bowling with a scrambled seam. Usman Khawaja (0 off 10), who has an ordinary record in England, began the tour on a disappointing note as he got a faint edge off a ball that pitched outside the off stump and seamed away.
There was minimal feet movement and he paid the price for playing away from the body and the nick was taken easily by Bharat behind the stumps.
Warner, who has a point to prove in this game and cement his spot in the playing XI for the upcoming Ashes, battled with grit and took his chances every time he was offered width.
After an engrossing opening hour, India took the foot off the pedal with Umesh Yadav offering plenty of scoring opportunities to Warner, who collected four boundaries off the pacer in the 15th over.
The going was much tougher for Labuschagne, who copped a nasty blow on his left thumb from a sharp delivery by Siraj. Later in the session, he was able to survive two close DRS lbw calls off Thakur’s bowling.
As it often happens in England, the sun came out in the second hour and made batting easier.
Australia were looking to close the session strongly until Warner went for a pull off a delivery angled into him by Thakur who went wide off the crease while coming round the wicket and the batter, cramped for room, couldn’t keep the pull down.
Bharat justified his selection over Ishan Kishan with a sharp diving catch.
India picked an extra fast bowler at the expense of Ravichandran Ashwin but that did not help their cause as Head (146 batting) and Smith (95 batting) amassed an unbeaten 251 run partnership off 370 balls for the fourth wicket, lifting Australia from a uncomfortable 73 for three.
The third wicket of Marnus Labuschagne (26) came in the 25th over before overcast skies made way for bright sunshine as Smith and Head made the most of batting friendly conditions through the afternoon and evening sessions. In all there were 44 boundaries hit along with a maximum, depicting the plight of Indian pace attack.