MELBOURNE, Jan 14 (TNS): The Ashes may be gone but England kicked off the ODI series with the most thumping of five-wicket wins in the first of five ODIs in Melbourne. For that, they have Jason Roy to thank. Chasing 305 for victory, Roy pillaged 180 of them on his own, carving 16 fours and five sixes to set a new record for the highest score by an Englishman in ODIs, beating Alex Hales’s 171 set against Pakistan in 2016.
Earlier, a ninth ODI hundred by the Australian opener Aaron Finch looked to have ensured an even tussle. His 112-ball effort was measured and serene, powerful but crafted as by a carpenter. For each heave there were a few deft touches. Roy, by contrast, was a man with a chainsaw in each hand taking down a forest.
Roy’s first 50 came from a chaotic 32 balls, in which he was responsible for 12 of the 15 boundaries England managed in their first 10 overs. Fifty to 100 was a more treacherous affair.
The middle of his bat became elusive as shots plinked and plugged in the vast outfield. On 91, he misread the line of a ball from leg spinner Adam Zampa and was adjudged LBW. On review, the ball was shown to have hit his pad outside the line while Roy was playing a shot. The umpire’s decision was overturned and he blitzed Zampa’s next ball for six, just out of the reach of long on. On 97, he ran three off his 94th delivery for a fourth ODI hundred.
His final 80 runs were a collection of nifty reverse sweeps, hacks and a towering skip-and-slap down the ground. He would depart as he arrived, swiping with disdain but, this time, to substitute fielder Jhye Richardson at square leg. It brought to an end a fine partnership with Joe Root – 221, now the highest third wicket stand for England in ODIs. Root ensured he was on hand to see the job home, finishing unbeaten on 91. An unconverted 50 that won’t bother him at all.
There was a Sliding Doors theme at the start when the first ball of the match was hit for four. It was the 1,003rd competitive delivery Chris Woakes has sent down on this tour and was driven back past him by Finch. By contrast, Mark Wood’s first threatened to pierce David Warner’s right ear, skidding off the pitch and forcing the left-hander to flinch for the first time in three months. Wood’s third drew a tough catching chance at cover before he squared Warner up two balls later to find the shoulder of the bat for a simple catch to Joe Root at second slip, for two.
Five balls in and England fans were already thumbing through the pages of an Ashes tragedy in their minds, desperate to get the red pen out. Their frustrations are shared by Wood himself, who felt fit and ready for the last three Tests but was seemingly unable to convince the ECB that his ankle could cope with the required work.
Woakes, by contrast, still has not found the rhythm that was robbed from him by a side-injury sustained during the ICC Champions Trophy last summer. His economy rate of 6.5 was less than Liam Plunkett’s 7.2, but the latter was more effective with three wickets to Woakes’s one.
Over the course of Wood’s opening five-over spell, he showed flashes of what England have been missing: extracting movement off a flat surface and testing Australia’s top order with pace.
A solid start was made a little rosier when Adil Rashid somehow dismissed Steve Smith via an inside edge in what must rank as one of the leg spinner’s worst overs for England. Smuggled between a handful of long-hops and a couple of wides was a neat googly that caught the Australia captain by surprise.
However, Rashid was unable to use the prize scalp as inspiration, eventually conceding 73 runs off his 10 overs, including five sixes, though he did return a second wicket when he bowled Mitchell Marsh for 50.
When Finch fell to Moeen Ali (the most economical of England’s bowlers, with one for 39), Marcus Stoinis (60) went on to push Australia to 304. Unfortunately for them, Roy made that look plenty short.