Steve Smith brushed aside a predictably-frosty welcome at the Ageas Bowl as his match-winning century guided Australia to a 12-run victory over England as both sides continued their World Cup preparations.
Smith and team-mate David Warner were both taking on their old Ashes rivals for the first time since their year-long ball-tampering bans expired, and – although both men were barracked on their way to the crease – the former was seemingly oblivious as he made an accomplished 116.
While the jeers and accompanying chants of ‘cheat’ were to be expected, Smith may have been surprised to notice both his fifty and his century marked by generous applause from the more moderate members of the 11,500 in attendance.
None of England’s batsmen were able to match his class as they were dismissed for 285 and, although the match goes down as little more than a friendly, they surrendered an undefeated run of seven matches since the start of the summer.
That will not concern the hosts half as much as an injury to Mark Wood though, the seamer struck down with a left foot injury that required scans just 24 hours after captain Eoin Morgan fractured a finger.
Wood began brightly for England, serving notice of his express pace before hitting the jackpot with a slower ball that Aaron Finch lobbed to mid-on.
Steve Smith announced his pending return to international cricket with a flawless century, as Australia landed a blow on World Cup favourites England, writes @LouisDBCameron: https://t.co/ol2nAuNgQq pic.twitter.com/XanQnwi9yl— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) May 25, 2019
Wood was off the field soon after, as was his substitute Jofra Archer. He lasted less than an over before heading off in apparent discomfort, though he re-emerged after a break and was later added into the batting line-up.
With England’s numbers running thin, the call went out to assistant coach Paul Collingwood.
On the eve of his 43rd birthday and eight months on from his professional retirement, he changed into Wood’s kit, took up his old watch at backward point and let nobody down.
Warner had progressed happily to 43 and was eyeing the first half-century of his comeback when he went after Liam Plunkett.
The ball sailed high into the leg-side but straight into the hands of the sprinting Jonny Bairstow, Warner’s one-time Ashes enemy and recent Sunrisers Hyderabad team-mate.
The change of batsman offered the perfect storm for the critics in the stands, Warner heckled on his way out and Smith on his way in. The impact on the latter was non-existent, as he quickly settled into a familiar groove.
Liam Plunkett enjoyed a profitable day, adding the wickets of Shaun Marsh, Alex Carey and Nathan Coulter-Nile, but could not control Smith.
He tucked into pulls, drives and steers on the way to 50, which brought the first duelling reactions from the fans but a low-key acknowledgement from the batsman himself.
Smith needed only 42 balls to convert, reaching 99 with a flashy six off Ben Stokes then scooping Plunkett for another audacious maximum.
When the end came it was curious, what seemed like a bump ball going down in the book as a caught-and-bowled for Tom Curran with one ball of the innings left.
The chase was not a daunting one by England’s recent standards but their fearless opening pair were quieter than usual.
Jason Roy was dropped on nought by Smith, a ‘gimme’ at slip, but had yet to find his feet when Kane Richardson drew an awkward chip on 32. Bairstow, meanwhile, barely made a dent before returning the earlier favour by gifting Warner a catch.
Ben Stokes fared no little better, eking out 20 before stepping away to attack Nathan Lyon and losing his bails.
The innings was stalling when Jos Buttler (52) emerged and promptly received a short, sharp energy shot.
The stand-in skipper dashed to a 30-ball half-century, brutalising Nathan Coulter-Nile in the process.
The seamer’s first eight deliveries at Buttler disappeared for 30, including four boundaries and two mighty sixes, but the ninth was a charm.
Having seemed unconquerable, Buttler’s timing for once eluded him as a leading edge drifted in slow motion to Usman Khawaja.
As the game entered its last 10 overs, England still needed 61 – a feat that proved too tricky for the tail end.
Five of the lower order lost their wickets in the nervy denouement, bested by strong death bowling, with Chris Woakes 40 not enough to carry the day.