SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia captain Steve Smith blasted a career best 164, the highest one-day international innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground, to drive the hosts to a 68-run victory over New Zealand on Sunday.
Black Caps opener Martin Guptil responded with a sparkling century of his own but New Zealand were only able to muster up 256 all out in response to Australia’s 324-8 and went 1-0 down in the three match series.
Australia were desperate for a victory having been swept 5-0 in South Africa in September and October, even more so after a week where a row between batsman Glenn Maxwell and wicketkeeper Matt Wade dominated the headlines.
Maxwell was handed a team fine on Saturday for his criticism of Wade’s captaincy of the Victoria state team, which Smith thought “disrespectful”, and ordered to carry the drinks as 12th man.
Smith, having won the toss, was soon showing a similarly firm hand to the New Zealand bowlers, hammering 14 fours and four sixes in a 157-ball masterclass on a balmy summer’s afternoon at his home ground.
He had some help from the Black Caps -- wicketkeeper BJ Watling put down a tough chance when he was on 13 and Colin Munro another when he was on 152 -- but also some capable assistance from his team mates.
Travis Head, dropped by Matt Henry on seven, scored 52 in a 127-run partnership for the fifth wicket and Wade’s 38 helped add another 83 for the sixth.
That stand was ended with the departure to rapturous applause of Smith, who miscued a Trent Boult delivery high into the air over midwicket which Munro managed to hold.
New Zealand’s response fell largely on the shoulders of Guptil, who smashed 114 off 102 balls with 10 fours and six sixes, the last of which was a huge heave over long-on to give him his maiden ODI century against Australia.
Guptil also became the fastest New Zealand batsman to reach 5,000 ODI runs.
Once he departed, caught at midwicket by Maxwell on as a substitute fielder, New Zealand looked unlikely to be able to match Australia’s strong finish of 113 runs in the last 10 overs.
Smith also showed his worth in the field with a stunning diving catch to dismiss Watling and paceman Josh Hazlewood (3-49) put in another impressive performance.
The series continues in Canberra on Tuesday before concluding in Melbourne on Friday.
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Toby Davis