Mark Wood gave England the early impetus with a ferocious spell of fast bowling
If Australia had any thoughts that this one-day series would simply be a continuation of the Ashes, they were relieved of that notion the moment Mark Wood’s first ball whistled past David Warner’s nose.
Wood’s opening burst was quicker and fierier than anything the Australian batsmen have faced this winter and must surely, and swiftly, have brought about the realisation that while England’s Test side may have lacked the tools to compete in Australian conditions, the white-ball team have no such problems.
Aaron Finch may have given early notice of what was to come by thumping a pair of boundaries off Chris Woakes in the first over, but Wood was all over Warner from the off.
The Aussie left-hander loves nothing more than to stamp his authority on an innings early on, but for the five balls he was at the crease, Wood was the authority.
He followed up his bouncer with a back-of-a-length delivery that rushed Warner and had him up on his toes again. By ball three the pressure was beginning to tell. A short delivery outside off-stump, the kind Warner would usually power away with glee, was prodded tentatively into the covers, the ball hanging in the air and narrowly evading the grasp of Eoin Morgan as he leapt high and to his right.
Wood needed just five balls to get rid of David Warner
Warner pushed the fourth ball to mid-on, was keen for a single that was never on and was sent back by Finch, tasked with facing England’s fearsome fast bowler once more – and that was all it would be.
Wood charged in, hit the pitch hard and before Warner had time to adjust the ball had reared up from just short of a length and thudded into the shoulder of his bat. The ball looped up, Joe Root jogged in from slip and pouched a simple catch to send Australia’s most dangerous white-ball batsman packing.
It was the ideal start for England and Wood, clocking speeds in the high 80s and early 90mph, had Finch and Steve Smith hopping around for the remainder of his spell.
The pair survived and Wood, although sharp again as he returned later in the innings, would have to settle for just the one wicket and relatively modest figures of 1-49 from his 10 overs. That, though, told only a fraction of the story.
Buoyed by the early wicket and the rather unusual sight, certainly on this tour, of an England bowler beating an Australian batsman for pace, the visitors never gave the impression of anything but supreme confidence.
Aaron Finch survived Wood’s opening burst and went on to make a superb hundred
Adil Rashid showed his value as a wicket-taker by removing Smith, and Liam Plunkett – another showing the value of pace and possessing that most unquantifiable of abilities, bowling a heavy ball – started 2018 as he ended the previous year, by claiming three wickets. Even as Finch and Mitchell Marsh built a strong partnership through the middle overs, England stuck to their plans and were rewarded at the back end of the innings.
Moeen Ali brought Finch’s fine innings to an end late in a disciplined 10-over spell and Rashid returned to bowl Marsh, just as he was threatening to cut loose.
Even during Marcus Stoinis’ onslaught, England maintained a level of control and even having been set a record ODI chase at the MCG for victory, a line-up largely unburdened by the Ashes defeat were entirely unfazed.
The disdain with which Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow treated Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins’ new-ball spells mirrored Wood’s disregard for Warner’s reputation at the start of the match: it doesn’t matter who you are, this England side will come at you.
Jason Roy showed great maturity in his record-breaking innings of 180
Roy enjoyed the odd moment of fortune in helping England to 57-1 in the fifth over but made the most of that luck in the most emphatic manner.
As he advanced down the pitch to AJ Tye and arrowed the ball through mid-wicket, from outside off, to bring up his fifty, Australia must have been wondering what had happened to the confidence-shot batsman they faced in last summer’s Champions Trophy.
Roy was dropped in the wake of that match but has returned to the XI with a seemingly greater hunger to succeed, he has certainly been in imperious form since his recall.
While his stroke play, especially early on, was the most eye-catching element of his record-breaking knock, the savvy and maturity he showed to rein it in during the middle of the innings was perhaps the most telling in judging Roy’s development.
The Surrey opener will rightly take the headlines for his magnificent innings and Root, the player in the England side perhaps most desperate for a win over the Aussies, deserves huge credit for playing his supporting role to perfection.
Joe Root played his supporting role to perfection
However, long before Roy and Root began their mammoth 221-run stand, it was Wood who set the tone.
England will no doubt wonder what might have been had they been able to call upon a fully-fit and firing Mark Wood during the Ashes.
That wasn’t to be and it remains to be seen whether Wood’s body will allow him to translate his ferocity with the white-ball into sustained Test success.
But, for now, as the one-day side continue to impress and head to Brisbane with a 1-0 series lead, England can be content in the knowledge that for the first time this winter they have a bowler capable of making life genuinely uncomfortable for the Australia batsmen.