Head, Smith skins Indian bowlers as Australia takes control on day one

Australia’s Travis Head and Steve Smith return to the dressing room after helping Australia end day one of the ICC World Test Championship finals against India in a dominant position. AP

Thanks to the heroics of Travis Head and Steve Smith on day one at the Oval on Wednesday, Australia got off to a dominant start in the ICC World Test Championship final against India.

Head beat his sixth Test century, which happened to be his first away, and secured a gargantuan uninterrupted streak with Steve Smith worth 251 points by the end of the game. Smith himself was nearing his 31st Test hundred and finished the day at 95 after hitting Mohammed Shami for a boundary on the final throw before Stumps.

This came after India won the toss and captain Rohit Sharma opted to play in overcast conditions in London hoping to make the most of a green roof at Surrey County Cricket Club’s home ground.

Rohit, meanwhile, opted for the one-off test at India’s tried and tested combination of four sailors and a spinner, meaning experienced off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was back on the bench in England. The decision to bench the high-ranked off-spinner, who was a proven match winner in a variety of conditions and not just in India, raised a frown from many, especially later in the day when bowling would lose its appeal.

India caused damage early on, however, when Mohammed Siraj trailed opener Usman Khawaja with a 10-ball duck in the fourth over of Australia’s inning. Fellow left-handed opener David Warner and senior Test batsman Marnus Labuschagne would then build the innings back up with a 69-run, second-wicket partnership. However, both batters would leave on either side of the lunch break, with India considering the possibility of restricting Australia to less than 300 after reducing them to 76/3.

Head, Smith takes the game away from India

It was a two-way street from there, however, as Head and Smith batted for two full sessions, softening the Indians’ attack in the process.

While Smith started cautiously, Head wasted no time and launched a counterattack against the Indians, hitting the bull’s eye with a boundary in the same over that saw Shami take down Labuschagne’s inside edge with an inswinger and rattle his off-stump.

The South Australian then collected two more boundaries in front of Siraj to move up to the doubles in short order and later collected back-to-back fours in front of Shami to signal the shift in momentum in the Aussies’ favour.

Australia’s ability to score more than 300 points was largely due to Head’s positive batting average, with the southpaw scoring over 100 points early in the inning to pressure the Indians and force them to make mistakes. Head soon brought up his half-century, although Smith decided to remain cautious at the other end, batting at 60 when Australia went to tea at 170/3 and amassed 97 runs for losing just one wicket in the second session .

The extended session would be even more one-sided compared to the second as Australia accumulated 157 runs without losing a single wicket. While Head continued to resist challenges from the Indian bowlers, which included a smack to the helmet, it was Smith who finally broke the cuffs in the evening session, which helped cement Australia’s control of the game.

Short results:

Australia 327/3 after 85 overs (Travis Head 146*, Steve Smith 95*; Mohammed Siraj 1/67) vs India

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