Melbourne, Jan 16 (AFP) A superb solo effort by ShaneWatson with the bat enabled Australia to overcome a sloppyfielding effort and beat England in the opening one-dayinternational at the Melbourne Cricket Ground today.
One of the few Australians to emerge with his reputationintact after the Ashes disaster, Watson''s brilliant unbeaten161 enabled the home side to chase down England''s imposingtotal of 294 from 49.4 overs with five balls to spare.
Fittingly, the right-hander hit the winning runs from thefirst ball of the last over, lofting Ajmal Shahzad overlong-on for six to take Australia to 297-4.
He and Brad Haddin laid the foundation for the win with a110-run partnership, although another scratchy innings bycaptain Michael Clarke, who was jeered by home fans as hestruggled for 36 from 57 balls, threatened to derail thechase.
However, Watson was not going to let his good work gounrewarded again and held the innings together in the latterovers as the tension rose.
He reached his fifth one-day century from 110 balls andwent on to post a career-best innings, facing 150 deliveriesin total and hitting 12 fours and four sixes.
Watson said the innings was some compensation for failingto convert several promising starts into centuries during theAshes, and that he hoped the result would be a fillip forthose Australians battling floods, including in his hometownof Ipswich.
"To be able to play an innings like that is always nice,"he said.
"A few little things went my way, I got dropped once anda few shanks fell in the gaps, and you need that bit of luckto get a big score.
"It would have been nice to get a few bigger ones, or atleast one big one, in the Ashes, but it wasn''t to be."
England captain Andrew Strauss admitted the Englishsimply couldn''t rein in Watson.
"A truly top quality knock," he said.
"He strikes the ball very hard and he''s able to cleareven very big boundaries, so it is hard to defend when he isin form.
"We had a couple of half chances that might have gone ourway on another night, but he deserved to be on the winningside."
The solo effort of Watson, dropped on 44 by JonathanTrott from the bowling of Chris Tremlett at mid-on, sparedAustralian blushes after a hapless performance in the field.
Kevin Pietersen led the way for England, who won the tossand elected to bat, with 78 from 75 balls including threesixes.
It was England''s highest total in a one-day internationalagainst Australia in Australia, and also their highest at theMCG. (More) AFP SHN
Just over a month out from their World Cup defence, the Australians offered up dropped catches, missed stumpings,botched run outs and wickets from no-balls, as well as 14wides.
The rot set in early for the home side when Steve Smithand Brett Lee somehow messed up an elementary run out to giveopener Steve Davies (42) a life before he had scored.
With England captain Andrew Strauss on 17, Lee thought hehad the left-hander caught on the boundary, only for a reviewcalled by umpire Bruce Oxenford to show it was a clearno-ball.
Watson then grassed Davies at short cover when he was on18 from the bowling of Lee before wicketkeeper Brad Haddinsquandered the first of three missed stumpings when Davies wason 24 from the bowling of David Hussey.
Haddin later missed another simple stumping when Strausswas on 48, from the bowling of Xavier Doherty, and thenbutchered a third chance when Pietersen was on 37, Husseyagain the unlucky bowler.
The belligerent Englishman made the Aussies payimmediately, lofting the unlucky Hussey for successive sixesto bring up his half-century and his team''s 200.
But, in this game at least, Watson was able to absolveAustralia of their fielding and bowling sins with his batting.