AN AARON Finch century consigned England to a six-wicket defeat in the first one-day international against Australia in Melbourne yesterday.
On another forgettable day for England, which started with skipper Alastair Cook failing to survive the first over, Finch hit 121 from 128 balls as Australia cantered to a victory target of 270 with 4.2 overs to spare.
The opener profited fully after Gary Ballance, who earlier hit 79 in England’s 269 for seven, put down a simple chance when he was on eight to reach his second ODI ton. With David Warner he set up the chase with a 163-run opening stand – a record for Australia against England.
Cook’s side had their chances to sever their union far earlier, most notably Ballance when he got two hands to a catch he should have taken at mid-off to deny Chris Jordan a wicket his early probing just about deserved. A contentious moment then denied England the scalp of Warner, when he was on 22 enroute to 65.
Jos Buttler claimed a catch behind, which the opener initially accepted before the standing umpires called for a review. Television replays were not as unequivocal and TV official Kumar Dharmasena called Warner back after he had already made most of his way to the boundary.
It was a moment to sum up England’s flagging fortunes on this tour, in which they are still without a win since their arrival Down Under in late October.
Cook had begun the day by edging behind the fourth ball from Clint McKay (three for 44), after he had already escaped a close lbw shout from the first delivery of the day.
The tourists managed just 28 for two in the opening ten-over powerplay – during which Joe Root scratched away for three from 23 balls before incorrectly reviewing a McKay inswinger that hit his front pad.
A maiden Ballance half-century, and a quickfire 50 by Eoin Morgan, helped repair the damage of the stuttering beginning to post 269 for seven – a score that was greater than all but two of England’s Ashes totals.
It was still not enough as Finch and Warner took early flight. They muscled the ball around the MCG in signature style – something England did not attempt until too late in their innings.
Finch raced out of the blocks to set the tone for the chase, before Warner joined in by swiping Jordan over his head for six, although the batsman was a little lucky when he hammered back a difficult return catch that Jordan could not hold on to.
Luck was also clearly not on England’s side as chances fell out of reach of fielders and, when it appeared a catch had carried, Warner was handed his reprieve. Mis-fields cost boundaries and only Warner’s haste cost him his wicket, hitting Root down the ground for Stokes to hold on next to the rope.
Jordan got deserved reward when he then pinned Shane Watson’s off stump back, and Finch finally exited after skewing a catch to deep backward point off Stokes. But the game was already up by that point and, while Michael Clarke mis-timed Tim Bresnan to mid-off, George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell saw Australia home.
England lacked urgency in their innings until Morgan – one of four England players included who were not involved in the 5-0 Ashes whitewash – took the lead role in an 83-run stand with Ballance for the fourth wicket.
Morgan’s half-century came from 46 balls, but from his next delivery he picked out Nathan Coulter-Nile at cover, off Maxwell’s gentle spin. The left-hander’s exit was untimely, just four overs before the batting powerplay, during which England again struggled. They scored 24 runs during it and also lost Ravi Bopara when he could only help a Coulter-Nile short ball through to Brad Haddin.
Ballance brought up his first England half-century, in any format, from 69 balls. And when he was caught at third man off McKay, with four overs left, England surged menacingly for the first time.
Buttler heaved an unbeaten 34 from 24 balls – adding 40 from the last four overs alongside Bresnan – although the decision to drop him down the order to fulfil his “finishing” duties became more questionable after Australia began their reply.