Shane Watson exorcised all his demons of the past by scoring a magnificent century to take Australia to a total of 307 for four at stumps on Day One of the fifth Ashes 2013 Test at The Oval. Watson was dismissed for 176. Steven Smith was unbeaten on 66 at the end of the day along with Peter Siddle on 18. Watson and Smith put together a 145-run partnership for the fourth wicket to hand Australia the upper hand going into Day Two.
Watson’s aggressive batting on a flat track vindicated Michael Clarke’s decision to bat first after winning the toss. Australia handed a debut to James Faulkner and brought in Mitchell Starc into their starting eleven, replacing Usman Khawaja and Jackson Bird. England also made two changes as Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan made their debuts. They replaced the injured Tim Bresnan and Jonny Bairstow.
Australia lost the wicket of David Warner (6) early as he poked at a full delivery from James Anderson and edged it to Matt Prior behind the wicket. Watson came in at No 3 and started scoring fours from the beginning. Although he got some boundaries, Watson did not look convincing early on. But once he reached the thirties he looked more composed.
Alastair Cook then brought on right-arm pacer Woakes and left-arm spinner Kerrigan into the attack. Watson targeted the debutants and raced to his half-century. Kerrigan gave away 10 runs off his first over and 18 off his second over. Watson struck four fours in Kerrigan’s second over to quickly remove him from the attack. Chris Rogers in the meantime was just giving enough support to Watson’s fireworks.
Australia reached lunch at 112 for one. England swiftly came back after the break as Graeme Swann dismissed Rogers. He got the ball to spin and bounce and Rogers edged it to Jonathan Trott at first slip, who took a low catch. Clarke then joined Watson in the middle. The Australian captain looked very uncomfortable against some hostile bowling from Stuart Broad. Watson then got struck by a Broad bouncer just behind the left ear. It took a little while for Watson to get back up after receiving some treatment.
Anderson, in his second spell, then bowled Clarke for seven. At the time Australia were at 144 for three. Watson then got to his third Test century in 46 matches with a drive towards cover off Broad’s bowling. This was also his first Ashes ton. The century came after 25-Test barren run. Then in the 47th over, Cook dropped Watson on 104 at wide first slip. Anderson’s good length ball took the outside edge off Watson’s bat, but Cook could not hold onto the catch low to his right.
Smith then came down the track and sliced a lofted drive off Swann, but the ball sailed over the boundary at wide long-off. After that, Watson and Smith batted brilliantly to take Australia’s score past the 200-run mark. Watson raced to his 150 with a flurry of boundaries off Broad. Smith also got to his sixth half-century later on. The next big chance for England came in the 84th over. Woakes’ length ball kept low and struck Watson’s pads as he missed a pull shot. The umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, raised his finger, but after a long discussion with Smith, Watson referred it to the third umpire. And it turned out to be his day as replays showed the ball would have gone over the stumps by a few inches.
There were slight hints of the second new ball moving in the last few overs, but by that the batsmen were watching it as a beach ball. But just as Australia looked to close play, England struck. Broad’s bouncer rose on Watson as he hooked it flat to deep backward square-leg. Kevin Pietersen took a diving catch to his left and Watson had to depart for a brilliant 176 off 247 balls. He hit 25 fours and one six in his innings. Prior to the knock, Watson had a troubled time getting out leg-before to the England fast bowlers. But he played a lot straighter on Wednesday and got his front foot out of the way to get a big score.
Australia finished the day on 307 for four. The Aussies definitely dominated the day, despite losing Watson late in the day. The worrying factor for England is that the debutants, especially Kerrigan, looked nervous and that made Anderson, Broad and Swann bowl more overs than they actually would have. The pitch is still conducive for batting and with a strong lower-order and tail to come, Australia look set to put on a big first innings total.
Australia 307 for 4 (Shane Watson 176, Steven Smith 66*; James Anderson 2 for 52) vs England.
(Shrikant Shankarpreviously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)