Travis Head and Steve Smith produced an unbroken 251-run fourth-wicket stand to leave Australia on 327/3 and well on top after the opening day of the ICC World Test Championship Final against India at The Oval.
Head was the star of the day, registering the first-ever century in a WTC Final and hitting the first of his six Test tons to come outside of Australia, finishing on 146* not out.
And his illustrious teammate Smith continued his extraordinary record at The Oval, where he now averages triple figures after his unbeaten 95*.
Head’s thrilling stroke-play helped punish India’s pace-heavy bowling attack in the second half of a south London day that had started with heavy cloud cover and ended with blazing sunshine.
India’s quicks had taken three wickets while the ball was moving around in the first couple of hours of play, but perhaps could have made slightly more of the swing and seam on offer.
And they were made to pay for not snaffling a few more wickets, as a brilliant partnership between Head and Smith punished India as the day went on.
Head’s 146*, the fourth highest score of his Test career, came at a strike-rate just shy of a run-a-ball, and left India with some headaches as they look to get their hands on the WTC mace at the second time of asking.
A tactical switch to pepper Head’s body with a barrage of short-pitched bowling caused the Australian No.5 some difficulties. But ICC pundits Nasser Hussain and Ricky Ponting were among those who suggested the change of approach came too late, with Head already well settled at the crease by the time those questions were asked of his technique.
It may have been Head who stood out, but Smith’s superb knock was a continuation of his brilliant record both in England and at this ground in particular.
The pair will return to the crease on Thursday morning looking to build an even bigger platform for Australia in this game.
India made the headlines before the day’s play had even begun when they opted not to pick the world’s top-ranked Test bowler, preferring an extra option in their four-strong pace attack to spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in their XI.
That Indian pace quartet of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur troubled Australia's batters for much of the first hour of play, with Shami and Siraj in particular getting plenty of movement off the seam under the grey south London skies.
And when Siraj got the edge to pick up the key wicket of Khawaja in the fourth over, it was looking like an inspired decision by India skipper Rohit Sharma to elect to field after he won the toss and chose to bowl.
But as the sun began to poke out after a tricky start to the contest, Australia's batters started to get on top and Warner found scoring more easier to come by – even taking 16 from one Umesh over.
Warner flayed at a wide one down the leg side from Thakur on the stroke of lunch and a brilliant catch by KS Bharat sent him packing to leave honours relatively even after the first session.
If the first session was balanced, the second largely belonged to Australia, although it was Shami who threw the first punch after lunch.
The leader of India’s attack bowled well without reward in the morning session, but picked up a wicket with his very first delivery after the interval, seaming a peach of a ball back through the gate to clean up Marnus Labuschagne (26).
That dismissal left Australia in a spot of bother on 76/3, but Head’s immediate counterattack saw Australia get more of a foothold in the game as the sun burned stronger through a bright June afternoon at The Oval.
Head smashed 28 off his first 19 deliveries, slowing down slightly to bring up his half-century from 60 balls.
Smith very nearly fell just before tea when a nick dropped agonisingly short of Shubman Gill at second slip, but Smith survived the scare and piled on the runs alongside Head as The Oval pitch looked every inch a batting paradise in the latter stages of the opening day.