Scroll down to see THAT six from Mitch Johnson
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In the days leading into Australia’s first one-day international in more than seven months, coach Darren Lehmann spoke about the team’s need to make an emphatic statement and stamp its authority at the outset of the tri-series in Harare.
The risk, of course, was that having not played since their victory over England in the final Carlton Mid ODI Series match at Adelaide Oval on Australia Day, the world’s top-ranked one-day team might be embarrassed at times by a 10th-ranked Zimbabwe outfit that was match-ready and exuberant.
Come the midday lunch break on another gloriously sunny African winter day, Australia’s new-look batting line-up had tendered an emphatic statement, stamped indelibly and smashed the in-house broadcasting facilities as well as the powerless local bowlers.
Their 50-over total of 6-350 was not only a sharp rebuttal of suggestions they might enter the two-week tournament underdone, but was also unprecedented in the 108 one-day internationals staged thus far at the quaintly picturesque Harare Sports Club.
By day’s end, a victory by 198 runs with more than 10 overs to spare was surely more emphatic than Lehmann could have imagined and set a new benchmark for the scale of Zimbabwean defeats at the hands of Australia.
Not that it was silky and clinical, in the manner of a well-oiled run machine.
Rather it was built, after a sensibly solid start from new opening pair Aaron Finch and Brad Haddin, on the sheer brute force of imposing all-rounder Mitchell Marsh and the irrepressible innovation of the Indian Premier League’s reigning MVP Glenn Maxwell.
Australian cricket has long held high hopes for Marsh, patiently waiting for the 22-year-old who was earmarked as a future star from his junior days to develop maturity and consistency to round out his thunderous ball-striking and hit-the-deck pace bowling.
By promoting him to No.3 in a batting order re-organised due to the absence of injured regulars Michael Clarke and Shane Watson, a further substantial investment was made and the former Australian under-19 captain delivered an immediate return.
His 89 from 83 balls was notable for the manner in which it was crafted, taking time to settle into the conditions that were at their most challenging in the first hour given the 9.30am start and ensuring he did justice to the 98-run platform laid by Haddin and Finch inside 20 overs.
And while Zimbabwe’s attack, made up of medium-fasts and tidy spinners, was earnest rather than threatening, Marsh showed respect to the balls that demanded it and abject contempt to the regular supply of those that didn’t.
While a lengthy international career and a vital role in Australia’s upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup campaign now loom, Marsh will rarely see a better opportunity to pocket an international century than the one that went begging when he fell to a smart catch at long-on to a typically well struck line drive.
By that stage Marsh was already playing co-star to Maxwell’s array of party tricks, the first of which was a reverse sweep aimed at the ninth ball he faced with trademark ambition but ultimately with the shortfall in execution that has been known to drive his coach to despair.
But the absurdly gifted all-rounder soon found his range, and as Australia targeted the final 10 overs to put Zimbabwe to the sword he unveiled – in unerring incandescence – his full repertoire of strokes that are set to force a total rewrite of the MCC Coaching Manual.
As he and Marsh smashed a fourth-wicket stand of 109 from 54 balls, Maxwell landed a stunning reverse sweep beyond the rope at deep mid-wicket of an expansive ground and then a physics-defying swat through square off a ball pitched a metre outside off-stump to surge towards his own century.
Despite his pledge to ensure more of his innings from now on end in red ink rather than a red face, Maxwell fell seven runs shy of that deserved but so far elusive international milestone when he attempted to gather them all in a single blow over long-off.
By that stage the Australians were simply engaging a six-hitting competition, the winner of which was Mitchell Johnson whose effortless eight-iron into the television commentary box in the penultimate over sent commentators diving for safety and social media into meltdown.
Didn't mean to give you guys a scare up there in the Com box @SuperSportTV Need Chris Gayles arms to get it higher!!— Mitchell Johnson (@MitchJohnson398) August 25, 2014
Well, that was an interesting last 10 overs. Braaied chicken and glass shards for lunch... Cheers Mitch J. :)— Neil Manthorp (@NeilManthorp) August 25, 2014
The Zimbabwean bowlers were clearly rattled by the batting enterprise they were forced to try and combat, and that showed in the increasing number of juicy boundary balls they dished up as147 runs flowed from the final 10 overs.
Their batsmen, for the most part, made a better fist of it as the pitch flattened out beneath the sun and the Australian quicks were forced to toil in order to get the ball through with any sort of speed, height or venom.
Johnson did land his second telling blow of the day, on the helmet of rival captain Elton Chigumbura who surrendered his wicket the following ball, but mostly it was a battle of attrition until the combative Zimbabweans succumbed to their own ambition or the sheer scale of their target.
The fact that stand-in skipper George Bailey, whose assessment at the coin toss that Clarke would miss Wednesday’s game against South Africa due to his hamstring problem caught some in the Australian dressing room by surprise, was able to give seven of his bowlers a work-out was a bonus.
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In keeping with the day’s theme, Steve Smith – the only batsman not to enjoy some middle time having run himself out needlessly for one – collected three late wickets to return career-best ODI figures.
The wickets were otherwise shared around, which might not represent a stamp of authority but will doubtless provide an ideal springboard heading into a far more competitive tri-series assignment against South Africa on Wednesday.
Australia: Finch, Haddin (wk), Bailey (c), Smith, Maxwell, Marsh, Faulkner, Johnson, Richardson, Starc, Lyon. Hughes (12th)
Zimbabwe: Raza, Mawoyo, Masakadza, Taylor, Williams, Chigumbura (c), Mutumbami (wk), Utseya, Panyangara, Nyumbu, Chatara. Sibanda (12th)