PHILLIP Hughes struck a blow for the new boys when he became the first Australian in the 42-year history of one-day internationals to score a century on debut and the home team rose above its unwanted B-team tag to thrash Sri Lanka by 107 runs.
In uncertain times for one-day cricket and the Australian team, Hughes provided further evidence of his rejuvenation with 112 while George Bailey enhanced his reputation with a captain’s knock of 89 from 79 balls.
Until Friday, the first ODI of the summer was all about who was not at the MCG, rather than who was, as Cricket Australia faced a backlash for resting some of its biggest drawcards and leaving out the retiring Mike Hussey. But Bailey’s team pulled a crowd of 27,461 (respectable for a hot afternoon in the Twenty20 era) and Hughes showed that his talents extend well beyond the Test arena.
Many were unconvinced about Hughes’ rebirth when he was recalled to the Test team for the recent series against Sri Lanka but he made a couple of scores above 80 and was finally given the chance to reproduce his remarkable domestic one-day form on the international stage. He seized it, becoming the eighth batsman to make an ODI century on debut.
Coincidentally, the record for the highest score on debut is held by the legendary West Indies batsman Desmond Haynes, who made 148 against Australia in Antigua in 1978, when Australia last had a top three comprised exclusively of debutants.
Hughes, the new model, combined powerful drives and balanced on-side shots with his trademark flays through point, and perished trying to slog Lasith Malinga into the stands. ‘‘To get three figures on debut is a great feeling, one I will never forget,’’ Hughes said. ‘‘George played beautifully ... and that took the pressure off me. For the three [debutants] to get this opportunity has been great.’’
The only blemish on Hughes’ innings was his running between the wickets, though fellow debutant Usman Khawaja had to accept some blame for his run out for three from 11 balls. Khawaja set off for a single but turned back and dived for his crease, only for his bat to pop up at the moment wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal whipped off the bails. He later made up for his mistake with a brilliant direct hit to dismiss Tillakaratne Dilshan for 51.
Bailey had to give Hughes a quick refresher in who should call the runs after hesitations twice put the captain in danger of being run out.
Bailey’s fourth half-century leant further credibility to his national emergence. He struck nine boundaries including a beautifully-timed six off leg-spinner Jeevan Mendis. He and Hughes combined for a run-a-ball partnership of 140 and lifted Australia to 5-305. In response, Sri Lanka was bowled out for 198 in 40 overs and Clint Mckay finished with two wickets in two balls.
David Hussey, another with something to prove after he imperilled his position with a poor series against Pakistan last winter, admirably filled the finishing role vacated by his brother. He carved an unbeaten 60 in 34 balls and closed the innings by taking 16 off the last over, bowled by Ajantha Mendis.
Though fellow Victorian and Test aspirant Glenn Maxwell missed out with the bat he lived up to his reputation as a gun fielder with two run outs in two balls. The first was a direct hit from side on to dismiss Angelo Mathews, the second a smart throw to the keeper to get rid of Lahiru Thiramanne.
Reduced to 5-128 in the 30th over, Sri Lanka was left with too much to do. Rising star Chandimal, who fell to a blinding catch from Brad Haddin for 73, injured his hamstring, meaning the tourists will probably use a fourth gloveman for the tour.