MELBOURNE, Aaron Finch scored a glittering century to fire Australia to a near record one day international total of 342 for nine at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the first innings of their World Cup opener against England on Saturday.
Spilled by Chris Woakes on the second ball he faced, opening batsman Finch blasted 135 and combined with stand-in skipper George Bailey for a 146-run partnership to help steady the co hosts after they had slumped to 70-3 in the 11th over.
With England putting in an abysmal fielding display, hard-hitting all-rounder Glenn Maxwell blasted 66 off 40 balls in the final overs to ensure their opponents will need to set a new record to win, with no team chasing down more than 299 at the venue.
Adding irony for England after a tough day in the field, Steven Finn completed a bizarre hat-trick with the final three deliveries, removing Brad Haddin, Maxwell and Mitchell Johnson to deny Australia the MCG record of 344 scored by an ICC World XI in 2005.
Paceman Stuart Broad had earlier bowled the dangerous David Warner and had Shane Watson caught behind for a golden duck in successive balls but Steven Smith survived the hat-trick ball.
Woakes removed the in-form Smith for five soon after but England released the pressure with some woeful fielding on a day of glorious sunshine.
England captain Eoin Morgan sent his bowlers in after winning the toss, hoping they could extract moisture from the pitch after thunderstorms lashed Melbourne overnight and in the morning.
The move appeared it might pay dividends with paceman James Anderson showing swing and movement off the seam from his first deliveries.
He gave Finch all sorts of trouble and the bulky right-hander flicked him straight to midwicket but Woakes put down the easy, head high chance.
Anderson was fuming again in the fifth over when Moeen Ali spilled a tougher chance, diving to his left at mid-off to put down Warner.
Warner and Finch duly punished England for their profligacy, reaching 50 in 37 balls before Broad broke the partnership in the eighth over.
Though pinned back for a few overs, Finch and Bailey gradually got on top and started blasting the English bowlers over their heads.
Finch tickled a leg-side boundary off paceman Steven Finn to bring up his sixth one-day century and leaped into the air in celebration, with the terraces roaring their approval.
More joy was to come for home fans, with Gary Ballance, replacing Ravi Bopara in the side, failing to commit to a catch in a clear mix-up with incoming fielder Broad when Bailey mishit high over deep midwicket when on 44.
Jeers rang out again when James Taylor, fielding at deep fine leg, missed a run-out chance when Finch was sent back to his crease after attempting a risky single.
A half decent throw would have had Finch out for 123 but it went high over wicketkeeper Jos Buttler’s head.
Morgan showed his team mates how it was done, swooping in at short cover to run Finch out with a direct hit on the stumps and Bailey was out chopping onto his stumps off Finn.
That only brought a pair of hard-hitting all-rounder’s to the crease in Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh combined for a quickfire 50-run partnership.
Buttler put down a tough chance when Maxwell was on 42 and the man nicknamed “the Big Show” raised his 50 from 30 balls in a run of four consecutive boundaries off the hapless Finn.
Wicketkeeper Haddin came in to score his 3,000th run in ODIs after Marsh was dismissed for 23.