Watson seals Aus win with six
Melbourne - A superb solo effort by Shane Watson with the bat enabled Australia to overcome a sloppy fielding effort, and beat England in the opening one-day international at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.
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One of the few Australians to emerge with his reputation intact after the Ashes disaster, Watson's brilliant unbeaten 161 enabled the home side to chase down England's imposing total of 294 from 49.4 overs with five balls to spare.
Fittingly, the right-hander hit the winning runs from the first ball of the last over, lofting Ajmal Shahzad over long-on for six to take Australia to 297-4.
He and Brad Haddin laid the foundation for the win with a 110-run partnership, although another scratchy innings by captain Michael Clarke, who was jeered by home fans as he struggled for 36 from 57 balls, threatened to derail the chase.
However, Watson was not going to let his good work go unrewarded again, and held the innings together in the later overs as the tension rose.
He reached his fifth one-day century from 110 balls and went on to post a career-best innings, facing 150 deliveries in total and hitting 12 fours and four sixes.
Watson said the innings was some compensation for failing to convert several promising starts into centuries during the Ashes, and that he hoped the result would be a fillip for those Australians battling floods, including in his hometown of Ipswich.
"To be able to play an innings like that is always nice," he said.
"A few little things went my way, I got dropped once and a few shanks fell in the gaps, and you need that bit of luck to get a big score.
"It would have been nice to get a few bigger ones, or at least one big one, in the Ashes, but it wasn't to be."
England captain Andrew Strauss admitted the English simply couldn't rein in Watson.
"A truly top quality knock," he said.
"He strikes the ball very hard and he's able to clear even very big boundaries, so it is hard to defend when he is in form.
"We had a couple of half chances that might have gone our way on another night, but he deserved to be on the winning side."
The solo effort of Watson, dropped on 44 by Jonathan Trott from the bowling of Chris Tremlett at mid-on, spared Australian blushes after a hapless performance in the field.
Kevin Pietersen led the way for England, who won the toss and elected to bat, with 78 from 75 balls including three sixes.
It was England's highest total in a one-day international against Australia in Australia, and also their highest at the MCG.
Just over a month out from their World Cup defence, the Australians offered up dropped catches, missed stumpings, botched run outs and wickets from no-balls, as well as 14 wides.
The rot set in early for the home side when Steve Smith and Brett Lee somehow messed up an elementary run out to give opener Steve Davies (42) a life before he had scored.
With England captain Andrew Strauss on 17, Lee thought he had the left-hander caught on the boundary, only for a review called by umpire Bruce Oxenford to show it was a clear no-ball.
Watson then grassed Davies at short cover when he was on 18 from the bowling of Lee, before wicketkeeper Brad Haddin squandered the first of three missed stumpings when Davies was on 24 from the bowling of David Hussey.
Haddin later missed another simple stumping when Strauss was on 48, from the bowling of Xavier Doherty, and then butchered a third chance when Pietersen was on 37, Hussey again the unlucky bowler.
The belligerent Englishman made the Aussies pay immediately, lofting the unlucky Hussey for successive sixes to bring up his half-century and his team's 200.
But, in this game at least, Watson was able to absolve Australia of their fielding and bowling sins with his batting.
England won the toss and chose to bat
A. Strauss c Clarke b Lee 63 S. Davies b D. Hussey 42
J. Trott c Haddin b D. Hussey 6 K. Pietersen run out 78 I. Bell c
Clarke b Smith 23 E. Morgan c White b Smith 8 M. Yardy c M. Hussey b
Bollinger 9 T. Bresnan c Doherty b Lee 28 G. Swann c Doherty b Johnson
4 A. Shahzad not out 8 C. Tremlett c Haddin b Johnson 7 Extras (w-14,
nb-1, b-2, lb-1) 18 Total (all out, 49.4 overs) 294
Fall of wickets: 1-90 2-100 3-131 4-174 5-186 6-236 7-257 8-271 9-278 10-294
Bowling: Lee 9-0-43-2 (w-4, nb-1), Bollinger 9-0-57-1 (w-5), Hussey
6-0-42-2, Johnson 7.4-0-53-2 (w-5), Watson 8-0-44-0, Doherty 7-0-40-0,
S. Watson not out 161 B.
Haddin c Shahzad b Swann 39 M. Clarke c Shahzad b Bresnan 36 S. Smith c
Yardy b Shahzad 5 M. Hussey c Tremlett b Bresnan 21 C. White not out 25
Extras (lb-6, w-3, 1-nb) 10 Total (for four wickets, 49.1 overs) 297
Fall of wickets: 1-110 2-213 3-220 4-244
Did not bat: David Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Xavier Doherty, Doug Bollinger.
Bowling: Bresnan 10-0-71-2 (w-2, nb-1), Tremlett 10-0-67-0, Shahzad
9.1-0-51-1 (w-1), Yardy 9-0-53-0, Swann 10-0-42-1, Trott 1-0-7-0
Australia won by six wickets
Next match: Second ODI, Jan. 21, Hobart