Steve Smith in control against the West Indies at the Nursery Ground, Southampton. Picture: Andrew Matthews/AP
Steve Smith in control against the West Indies at the Nursery Ground, Southampton. Picture: Andrew Matthews/AP

Smith stars as Aussies win tour opener

AUSTRALIA has begun its UK tour in fine fashion, beating the West Indies comfortably in an unofficial practice match on Wednesday (local time) in Southampton.

Set a target of 230 to win, the Australians got home with seven wickets and 11.3 overs to spare as Steve Smith continued his hot form with the bat.

However, it was not all smooth sailing for Aaron Finch's men, with Usman Khawaja sent to hospital for scans on his jaw and David Warner failing to fire at No.3.

None of them count towards his official record, but Smith has scored three consecutive half-centuries for Australia and looks set to take the World Cup by storm.

Scratchy in the Indian Premier League after an injury lay-off, Smith was below his best in his first match back for Australia, making a 43-ball 22 in the first unofficial one-dayer against a New Zealand XI in Brisbane. Since then he has gone from strength to strength.

The former skipper plundered an unbeaten 89 in his next innings and bad light ended his final knock of the Brisbane camp on 91.

Smith carried on where he left off in Australia's first hit-out on UK soil before the World Cup, making 76 off 82 before perishing to Carlos Brathwaite.

That takes the former Test skipper's run tally to a healthy 278 at an average of 139 since his return to Australian colours.

"He has gone fantastically since he come back in," Shaun Marsh said after play.

"It's good to see him score some runs, No doubt he's ready for a big tournament. He has come back and scored some runs ... just like he always does."

Smith was also turned to for two overs at Southampton, suggesting his elbow is in good health after surgery in January. The leg-spinner conceded 11 runs without taking a wicket.

David Warner has played all but one of his 104 ODI innings at the top of the order, but it appears Justin Langer is considering pushing the left-hander down to No.3.

In Warner's absence earlier this year, Khawaja and Aaron Finch made a serious case to be considered Australia's first-choice opening pair. Across 14 innings together, the duo has averaged 64.07 for Australia's first wicket - the best by an Australian opening combination (minimum 10 innings).

The counterpoint to that is that Warner is one of Australia's finest ever openers, at his best the country's premiere white-ball batsman and heads into the World Cup having topped the run-scoring charts in the last IPL season.

Langer tested out all three opening combinations during this month's World Cup camp in Brisbane. Unfortunately for the Australians, they lost their first wicket cheaply in all three games, with the opening stand averaging 8.00.

In Southampton, the Khawaja-Finch combination was preferred, and Warner made 12 off 24 batting at No.3 - bounced out by Windies quick Oshane Thomas.

Warner is averaging 13.25 across Australia's four practice matches to date.

He could get the chance to move back up the order in Australia's next warm-up match against England on Saturday, with Khawaja sent to hospital for scans after being struck by an Andre Russell bouncer.

Khawaja retired hurt on five after being rocked by a brute of a ball from his former Sydney Thunder teammate, but teammate Shaun Marsh played down concerns after play.

"It was very scary," Marsh said. "It copped him on the side of the cheekbone ... I'm not sure what is happening with him.

"But the main thing is he is OK and can bounce back pretty quickly. "He was a bit shaken, as you are when you get hit on the head, but he is a tough cookie, Uzzy, and he'll be ready to go."

Marsh took a step towards cementing his position in Australia's first choice XI, scoring an unbeaten 55 as he and Glenn Maxwell (18 not out) got Finch's side home with 11.3 overs to spare.

With competition for places heating up in the Australian batting order, Marsh reminded selectors of what he is capable of in England, hitting seven boundaries in his 59-ball stay. The left-hander was Australia's best batsman during last year's tour of the UK (280 at 57.60) and has averaged 53.18 with four centuries in the past 12 months of ODI cricket.

Australia's captain was also among the runs, hitting six fours and one six in a 47-ball 42.

Australia rested Nathan Lyon, Marcus Stoinis and Kane Richardson for the match.

Pacemen Pat Cummins (2-36), Nathan Coulter-Nile (2-25) and Mitchell Starc (2-34) grabbed two wickets apiece with Maxwell (2-14) also taking a pair in just three overs.

Leg-spinner Adam Zampa bowled superbly to finish with 1-42 from nine overs to boost his hopes of starting against Afghanistan in the tournament opener on June 1 in Bristol.

Maxwell bowls nearly twice as many overs per match on average under the captaincy of Finch than he did under Smith and the faith he has been shown is paying dividends for Australia.

The right-arm finger-spinner trapped West Indies opener Evin Lewis in front for 50 on Wednesday before accounting for Nicholas Pooran (5) in his next over.

News Corp Australia


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