Steven Smith embarked on this tour as a key Test player without a clear role in Australia's one-day side, but his first ODI century might change that. Smith struck 101 to set up Australia's comfortable 93-run victory over Pakistan in the first ODI in Shar
Steven Smith embarked on this tour as a key Test player without a clear role in Australia's one-day side, but his first ODI century might change that. Smith struck 101 to set up Australia's comfortable 93-run victory over Pakistan in the first ODI in Sharjah, where Nathan Lyon, another man just establishing himself in the one-day team, also made an important contribution.
Smith was the only batsman from either side who passed 50 and it was thanks to his confident work against spin that Australia reached a competitive 255 for 8. Still, it was a total that Pakistan would have fancied their chances of overhauling had Lyon not struck twice in the 13th over to reduce them from 59 for 1 to 59 for 3 during an excellent spell of off-spin bowling.
On a pitch that offered plenty of turn, few batsmen really got themselves in for an extended period and, perhaps surprisingly, it was the Australians who handled the conditions the better. Lyon's first ball gripped and turned sharply and he became a different type of weapon to Mitchell Johnson, whose pace was also causing issues for Pakistan's batsmen.
Earlier in the day Pakistan's frontline spinner, the debutant Zulfiqar Babar, had bowled well without having a major impact and Shahid Afridi picked up three wickets. But the real difference between the two sides was Smith, whose nimble footwork and ability to keep the scoreboard ticking ensured that Australia did not get bogged down.
And there was a chance of that happening, for after an 86-run partnership between Smith and David Warner, who pulled a catch to midwicket off Afridi for 43, no other Australian made it past the 20s. Afridi had two catches put down off his own bowling, both off Glenn Maxwell, but took a pearler of his own running back from midwicket to remove George Bailey for 18.
The drops of Maxwell, an edge behind to Sarfraz and a missed top edge by Ahmed Shehzad running back behind the wicketkeeper, were not too costly as he fell for 21, the 216-centimetre Mohammad Irfan his unlikely athletic catcher at long-off. It was the first wicket for Babar, who at 35 had become Pakistan's second-oldest ODI debutant, but it was his also his only one.
But while his partners struggled to get going, Smith kept the innings on course at the other end. It was a well-paced innings, steady early while batting with Warner, until Smith showed his willingness to go over the top by launching Anwar Ali over long-off for a cleanly struck six. He was also inventive against Irfan, walking across outside off stump to flick a boundary through midwicket.
It was an indication that his footwork is just as effective against pace as spin. However, with captain Michael Clarke injured, Smith is clearly the best player of spin in the side, and his quick footwork was notable. He regularly advanced to the spinners and worked the ball through gaps, and a second six came when he moved down the wicket and thumped Babar straight back over the sightscreen.
Smith had never so much as scored an ODI half-century before and he turned his first into a century, clipping a single through midwicket off his 115th delivery. It was not only a landmark for Smith in the one-day international side but in limited-overs cricket more generally, for his previous highest List A score was an unbeaten 99 for New South Wales.
But the chance for a bigger score, and for pushing Australia to a more daunting total, disappeared when Smith sent a catch to Wahab Riaz at long off from the bowling of Afridi. That slowed Australia in their final overs, although 17 came off the 50th from Wahab as Johnson found three consecutive boundaries to lift the total past 250.
It was a gettable target and even after Shehzad had edged Johnson to Smith at second slip in the third over, Pakistan looked capable. Promoted to open on his return to the side, Sarfraz Ahmed was the key early. He played some remarkable shots, most notably a slog-swept six off James Faulkner, and had motored along to 34 from 41 when he toe-edged behind off Lyon trying another sweep.
Next ball came the blow that really gave Australia confidence. The captain Misbah-ul-Haq walked to the crease, Australia's captain George Bailey conferred with Lyon and placed a leg slip, and first ball Misbah obligingly tickled a catch there. It still required a terrifically sharp catch from Warner, who thrust his right hand out while backing away, but the plan, and Lyon's lovely flighted offbreak, was flawless.
From there, things stagnated for Pakistan. Fawad Alam crawled to 7 off 25 balls, Asad Shafiq struggled to handle Johnson's short balls and was caught behind for 13, and Afridi gave debutant Sean Abbott his maiden ODI wicket by sending a catch to deep midwicket. Umar Akmal was the only Pakistani who looked capable of steering them home, but his partners were running out.
Johnson claimed a third wicket, Maxwell chipped in with a couple, and Umar was eventually bowled for 46 trying to smash Kane Richardson for six. The last pair, Irfan and Babar, had some fun by launching Maxwell for three sixes in one over, but a run-out in the next ended the ride.
It was a 93-run win; Smith's 101 meant he was more than the difference between the teams. And for the immediate future, he might just be a hard man to displace from No.3 in this ODI team.