Shane Watson hit 161 not out to give Australia victory over England in the first one day international of the seven match series between the two sides.
Andrew Strauss had won the toss for England and, rightly so, chose to bat at the MCG as the sun shone down over the historic ground where just a wisp or two of thin white cloud broke up what was otherwise a perfect canvass of light blue sky above Melbourne.
Strauss’ decision looked to be a good one, as the tourists reached 90 before David Hussey clean bowled Simon Davies for 42 off just 35 balls as the young wicketkeeper was nearing a half century. Although Jonathan Trott went cheaply, for just six, Kevin Pietersen and Strauss both scored half centuries, but neither was able to kick on and score a ton.
Strauss was caught by Australia’s ODI captain Michael Clarke off the bowling of Brett Lee for 68 from 65 deliveries, while Pietersen hung on for as long as he could while Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, and Michael Yardy all gave up their wickets cheaply, but possibly out of frustration as no one was able to stay in with him, Pietersen was eventually run out by Mitchell Johnson for 78 off just 75 balls which included two fours and three sixes.
Following Pietersen’s dismissal England were only able to put on a further 37 runs before the tail was skittled; the only suggestion that the tail may wag coming from Tim Bresnan, who scored 28 from 27 balls, before he gave Lee his second wicket of the match.
Although England may have been bowled out with two balls to spare, the pace at which they scored, possibly due to still mentally being in T20 mode, left the home side needing 295 to win or 294 to draw.
And so began to Shane Watson show. From the first four overs Australia scored 26, just two of which came off the bat of Watson’s opening partner Brad Haddin from two balls.
Watson dispatched boundaries in each of the first four overs, off the wayward bowling of Bresnan and Chris Tremlett to set the Queensland born Watson, playing in his 115 ODI, on the way to his highest score in the 50 over international game.
Australia had reached 110 before Graeme Swann took England’s first wicket as Haddin was caught by Ajmal Shahzad for 39. The next time an Australian batsman would be making his way back to the pavilion they would have put on a further 103 runs, as Clarke, out for 36, became the next cameo alongside the starring role of Watson.
Steve Smith and then Mike Hussey both fell as Watson continued on his way to beating his previous ODI best of 136 not out, and it was left for Cameron White to back up the New South Wales Blues all-rounder as no England bowler was able to come near to dispossessing him of his wicket in his first ODI in six months.
Watson’s heroics were enough to easily gain him the man of the match award, but more importantly, it also spearheaded Australia as they mounted the highest ever successful run chase at the MCG, eventually winning by six wickets with five balls to spare as they finished on 297 for 4.
For England there were plenty of positives from a match in which they scored 294 but were bowled out with two balls left. If they are to be successful at this year’s upcoming Cricket World Cup, this is something they will need to work on, as will be their bowling attack, which could only take four of Australia’s wickets. Thankfully for Strauss and the England team, there are six matches remaining in this series for them to right these wrongs in time to win the series and find some form for the World Cup.