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23 January 201518:27 By R Kaushik, Hobart

Smith leads from the front in tense chase

England’s 303/8 not enough as Australia rides on captain’s unbeaten ton to clinch last-over win

Smith leads from the front in tense chase - Cricket News

Steve Smith produced another wonderful hundred, his third in ODIs, to catapult Australia to 304 for 7, the three-wicket win with one delivery to spare sealing his team’s place in the title round.

Steve Smith took it upon himself to secure Australia’s place in the final of the triangular series, doing so with such assurance that England was beaten at the Blundstone Arena Bellerive long before the winning run was brought up on Friday (January 23) night.

Ian Bell had produced a magical fourth One-Day International hundred, during the course of which he not just topped 5,000 ODI runs but also became England’s highest scorer in 50-over cricket, to set the tone for his team’s tally of 303 for 8 on being put in. It was an imposing total but it was also a disappointment. From 244 for 2 after 40 overs, England managed only 59 for 6 in its last 10 during a passage of play that was to prove decisive in the final outcome.

Australia, its batting considerably weakened without George Bailey, David Warner and Shane Watson, kept stringing partnerships together with the man making his debut as ODI skipper the constant in all but one of them. The telling one was 81 for the sixth wicket with the intrepid Brad Haddin off just 61 deliveries, a stand that reduced a reasonably arduous chase to a stroll. Just like he had done in Brisbane last month against India in his first Test as captain, Smith produced another wonderful hundred, his third in ODIs, to catapult Australia to 304 for 7, the three-wicket win with one delivery to spare sealing his team’s place in the title round.

While England couldn't kick on after Bell’s dismissal for a career-best 141, Smith had just that little bit extra support and saw the team home with an unbeaten 102. That in a nutshell summed up game four of this tri-series.

Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh had set Australia on the way with a fruitful association of 76, Marsh uncorking a flurry of fours to get the chase rolling. Finch then threw his hand away, playing an ambitious stroke to give Moeen Ali a wicket with his fourth delivery, after which Steven Finn produced two dramatic strikes in three deliveries to get rid of Marsh to a catch at point and Cameron White, whose four-year wait for a return to the ODI side ended with a second-ball duck, to a full, inswinging yorker.

All the pressure of the chase was now entirely on Smith, especially with Australia light on batting. Glenn Maxwell, was dropped third ball by Anderson diving to his left and led a chancy existence even as Smith ticked along like a well-oiled machine. Their stand of 69 steadied the nerves, and James Faulkner, lent further impetus with a breezy 35 that dominated the stand of 55 for the fifth wicket.

Climbing required rate, falling wickets, nothing seemed to faze Australia’s captain marvellous. It was as if he knew exactly where every fielder was, at what rate the ball would travel across the outfield, where he could pinch a third and where he could steal a second. It was intelligent, entertaining stuff, the solidity standing out.

Australia looked in reasonable control of the chase but never in command, because every time it threatened to run away, England found a way to break through. But everyone at Bellerive knew that till such time that Smith was around, the home side held a distinct edge. Haddin struck out lustily, including a six and a four off successive deliveries in Finn’s final over, to all but drag the team home, while Smith stayed on till the sweet end, unconquered, unbeatable and very much undefeated.

Bell himself has been in subliminal touch since arriving in Australia with scores of 51 and 187 in two warm-up games, and an unbeaten 88 against India at the Gabba last Sunday. He had, however, been dismissed for a first-ball duck in the tri-series opener against Australia exactly a week back, and seemed determined to atone for that failure in his latest stint at the top of the England batting tree.

Batting with all the authority of a man with a million runs under his belt, Bell was involved in century stands for the first and third wickets respectively with Moeen and Joe Root. Along the way, he systematically dismantled Australia’s pace heavy attack.

Bell is at his best transferring weight on to the back foot and either dabbing or cutting ferociously through and behind point, but when the length is fuller, he isn’t shy of thrusting his left foot down the track and driving through and over cover with supreme grace.

In the absence of any perceptible swing, the Mitchell Starc threat was neutralised immediately in the shape of three fours in the left-arm paceman’s second over, while the ramrod straightness with which the ball came off the surface meant pace was never going to make an impression. Australia’s most economical bowlers were the recalled Moises Henriques, and Gurinder Sandhu, who impressed again with his industry and control, while Faulkner brought his changes of pace into play to ensure that England did not kick off from the massive position of strength Bell and Root had put them in.

But compared to Bell, everything else paled into the background, including Root’s cheekiness. Bell began with six sumptuous boundaries inside the first five overs, eased off a little as Moeen took over with three consecutive pulled sixes off Cummins, then found a second wind as he repeatedly peppered the boundary boards and wowed a sizeable crowd supremely appreciative of the quality of the England opener’s strokeplay.

Australia briefly eyed an opening when Moeen fell after a stand of 46 and James Taylor was castled by Henriques. Haddin, flailing to his right, failed to hold on to a sharp chance offered by Bell, on 80 with England 136 for 2 when he edged a cut off Faulkner. The opening had been emphatically shut.

If the early part of Bell’s essay was all about picking the gaps and finding the fence, then alongside the ever busy Root, he ran like there was no tomorrow, the calling decisive, the understanding impeccable.

Bell made the most of the reprieve, racing through the 80s and 90s and bringing up a fabulous hundred off just 92 deliveries. After the milestone was passed, he cleared his front leg and hit through the line or very occasionally forsake grace to address the demands of the situation and hoicked across the line.

His personal best 126* consigned to history, Bell finally fell when Sandhu was rewarded for perseverance with Starc taking an excellent catch running back from mid-off. Eoin Morgan was dismissed first ball and Root holed out to mid-on as Australia fought back at the death with the discipline that had deserted the bowlers early on. The final over from Starc produced just two runs and three wickets, indicative of how the final 10 overs had gone, and proved to be the big difference in the end.

Please click here to review the Australia v England match in Hobart in full.