|Watson’s performance was described as ‘one of the great one-day innings’ by England captain Andrew Strauss [AFP]|
Shane Watson blazed a magnificent 161 not out as Australia scored 297 for four to beat England by six wickets in their first one-day international.
Australia’s score on Sunday was the highest successful run chase in a one-day international at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, capped with a six by Watson to win the match.
“It’s always nice to start the one-day series after the Ashes defeat,” Watson said.
“It’s a beautiful wicket so we always knew it (the total) was in reach. It was nice to be there at the end.”
Watson shared in two century stands, an opening partnership of 110 with Brad Haddin (39) and 103 for the second wicket with captain Michael Clarke (36), though Australia were struggling to keep up with the required run rate by the time Clarke departed.
Steve Smith attempted to take advantage of the batting powerplay by swinging at every delivery and while he got away with a bottom edge past England wicketkeeper Steve Davies, his second edge was well caught by Michael Yardy off Ajmal Shahzad.
Mike Hussey, however, came in and set about the England attack taking 15 runs off one Tim Bresnan over to ensure Australia were at least up with the required rate as they began their final push for victory.
Bresnan had the last laugh, though, when he deceived Hussey with an off cutter that he chipped to Chris Tremlett at square leg to be dismissed for 21 off 15 balls and Australia were again drifting behind the required rate.
Cameron White took a few balls to get used to the pitch before taking advantage of a dropped catch by Jonathan Trott in the deep off Tremlett when he was on nine.
That got Australia down to a run a ball with just over three overs remaining and four runs from the last over.
Watson then smashed the first ball of the 50th over into the crowd over long on for his fourth six to ensure victory.
It was his highest one-day international score and fifth century.
Australia’s selectors will have been left in little doubt about his form as they pondered the makeup of their final 15-man squad that will seek a fourth successive World Cup next month.
Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss had earlier blasted half centuries, while Haddin fluffed three stumping opportunities, as England made their imposing 294 in 49.4 overs.
Pietersen top scored with 78 before he was run out just as he was looking to launch a final assault on the Australian bowlers shortly after England had taken the final power play.
Strauss scored 63 off 65 balls as he punished anything short of a length in a blistering start with Davies (42) when they rattled up 90 runs inside the first 12 overs.
“An outstanding effort from Shane Watson, one of the great one-day innings,” Strauss said in a post-match TV interview.
“We didn’t take early wickets, if we had done we would’ve been right ahead of the game.
“They needed someone to anchor the innings and Watson did so. It’s hard to swallow this one, but we’ll come back hard in Hobart.”