Watson's heart elsewhere as brilliance lifts spirits of nation

England 294 Australia 297-4 (Australia win by six wickets) Batsman celebrates an emotional victory after hometown is devastated in Australian floods
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The Independent Online

Winning the Ashes was as easy as ABC. Defeating Australia in a one-day series may demand some deep knowledge of the permutations at the other end of the alphabet. England made two big mistakes in losing the first of seven matches yesterday: they did not make as many runs as they ought to have done and then they failed to defend a total that should still have been enough to win.

Too many of their batsmen surrendered their wickets too readily, too many of their bowlers found rhythm elusive and their fielding was never quite at the peak of its form. None of this, however, should detract a jot from the batting exhibition delivered by Shane Watson, whose 161 not out from 150 balls ensured that Australia were always in sight of their target.

Throughout this Antipodean summer Watson has been threatening something of such order but it was always just out of reach in the Test series. Yesterday, he was in command from the start – brutal, ferocious and determined. It was an innings that eventually overwhelmed Kevin Pietersen's 78 for England, his first half-century in 16 one-day innings.

There was also an inescapably emotional element to Watson's tour de force. His home is in Ipswich, one of the Queensland towns which has been most affected by the floods which have engulfed much of the country's eastern seaboard in the past few days and weeks. By his own admission that is where his thoughts have been.

"I haven't really been thinking about cricket too much," he said. "It's been all about what's going on back home and also trying to organise things I can do after this game to help out in any way I can. My heart and my mind have been there. It's going to be great to get up there for a couple of days and help in any way I can."

With the next match in the series not being played until Friday in Hobart, Watson is spending two days at home. He intends to visit the suburb of Booval and will rejoin the team on Thursday. "I'm just going to go round and try to lift the spirits of people in any way I possibly I can," he said. "My family is lucky enough not to be affected but some of my friends live close to the river and my primary school was damaged. It will be a heart-wrenching day to see such devastation but I'm really looking forward to it. It does put the game of cricket in perspective."

Without Watson, it is eminently possible that Australia would still have fallen well short despite England's shortcomings.

He was out of the blocks quickly and he never relaxed. He hit 12 fours and four sixes, and was dropped once when he offered a difficult chance to Jonathan Trott from a miscued pull shot on 44. A smattering of other pull shots fell into gaps but Watson deserved all the fortune going for the sheer authority of his play.

In many ways, he has been a revelation this season, a Test opener who knows the value of leaving the ball and a limited-overs opener who understands the worth of hitting it into the stratosphere and is perfectly capable of both. At present he is the best cricketer in Australia.

But England, who sprang a selection surprise by dropping Paul Collingwood, their most capped player, should kick themselves for presenting Watson with the opportunity. It did not at the outset look much like a pitch on which 300 might be scored but in the event the tourists should have made 20 or 30 more than that. They were given a rousing start by Andrew Strauss and Steve Davies, who might have been out at least four times but remained unperturbed.

Australia for a little while were awful and England were not much better. When one-day international cricket was accidentally invented 40 years ago on this ground – the first knockabout match being organised because the Test match of January 1971 had been washed out – nobody had much of a clue how to approach it.

To mark the anniversary yesterday they appeared to proceed along similar lines. England's sloppy batting was matched blow for blow by Australia's inept fielding. The wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, had a terrible day, missing two stumpings, two of which were regulation. He must have been able to feel the breath of the young pretender, Tim Paine, at his neck.

England were 129 for 2 after 20 overs and 174 for 3 after 30, well on course. But Strauss, whose 63 from 65 balls was a continuation of his form in the 50-over game, jabbed uncomfortably to short midwicket. Ian Bell drove carelessly to cover, Eoin Morgan slogged a short ball loosely in the same direction. Collingwood, out of form though he has been, could have fared no worse.

While Pietersen was there, England retained a large element of control. It was not quite like the days of yore but he was neatly paced, ticking over at a run a ball, although he struck only two fours. There were also three booming sixes, two off successive balls, but with the promise of more to come he was run out trying to scramble a single there was no need to take, failing to beat Mitchell Johnson's direct kick on to the stumps. Crucially, there were still 26 balls left and England never faced them, being bowled out in the last over.

Australia always had sufficient wickets in hand to stay in touch and England, without Collingwood, whose little cutters might have posed a tricky question or two, were a bowler short. Strauss changed the attack regularly, the two spinners Graeme Swann and Mike Yardy applied brakes without inducing panic. When required, Watson simply bludgeoned through the field again.

"It's nice when things go your way," he said. "Australia in general, not just my hometown, is inundated with water. Hopefully, winning a game will give people a bit more enjoyment than we gave during the Ashes." On the evidence of the opening match, England have plenty to fear.

Melbourne Scoreboard

One-day International, at the MCG.Australia beat England by six wickets.

England won toss

England

Runs 6s/4s/Bls/Min

*A J Strauss c Clarke b Lee 63/0/7/65/86

†S M Davies b D Hussey 42/0/5/35/52

I J L Trott c Haddin b D Hussey 6/0/1/7/7

K P Pietersen run out 78/3/2/75/124

I R Bell c Clarke b Smith 23/0/1/32/34

E J G Morgan c White b Smith 8/0/1/12/8

M H Yardy c M Hussey b Bollinger 9/0/0/21/33

T T Bresnan c Doherty b Lee 28/0/4/27/29

G P Swann c Doherty b Johnson 4/0/0/10/18

A Shahzad not out 8/1/0/7/15

C T Tremlett c Haddin b Johnson 7/1/0/8/9

Extras (b2 lb1 w14 nb1) 18

Total (49.4 overs) 294

Fall: 1-90, 2-100, 3-131, 4-174, 5-186, 6-236, 7-257, 8-271, 9-278.

Bowling: B Lee 9-0-43-2, D E Bollinger 9-0-57-1, D J Hussey 6-0-42-2, M G Johnson 7.4-0-53-2, S R Watson 8-0-44-0, X J Doherty 7-0-40-0, S P D Smith 3-0-12-2.

Australia

Runs/6s/4s/Bls/Min

S R Watson not out 161/4/12/150/214

†B J Haddin c Shahzad b Swann 39/0/5/47/80

*M J Clarke c Shahzad b Bresnan 36/0/1/57/73

S P D Smith c Yardy b Shahzad 5/0/1/4/4

M E K Hussey c Tremlett b Bresnan 21/1/1/15/15

C L White not out 25/0/2/23/32

Extras (lb6 w3 nb1)10

Total (4 wkts, 49.1 overs)297

Fall:1-110, 2-213, 3-220, 4-244.

Did not bat D J Hussey, M G Johnson, X J Doherty, B Lee, D E Bollinger.

Bowling T T Bresnan 10-0-71-2, C T Tremlett 10-0-67-0, A Shahzad 9.1-0-51-1, M H Yardy 9-0-53-0, G P Swann 10-0-42-1, I J L Trott 1-0-7-0.

Umpires B F Bowden (NZ) and B N J Oxenford.

Australia lead seven-match series 1-0.

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