Dharamshala: Travis Head's bulldozing hundred and game awareness in crunch moments helped Australia negate a marvellous century by Rachin Ravindra to register a thrilling five-run victory over New Zealand in their World Cup match here on Saturday.
The destruction of Head (109 off 67 balls) and his opening partner David Warner (81 off 65 balls) during their 175-run alliance upfront gelled well with some late-order biffing as Aussies overcame a middle-order meltdown to post 388 all out, after they were put into bat.
Ravindra made a sparkling 116 off 89 balls and James Neesham a manic 39-ball 58 but the Kiwis could only manage 383 to suffer their second successive defeat in the tournament.
The cumulative score of 771 posted by the two teams is highest aggregate score in a World Cup game surpassing 754 collectively notched up by South Africa (428) and Sri Lanka (326) in New Delhi on October 7, in this very event.
With this win, Australia have eight points from six matches, same as New Zealand, and they are firmly entrenched at No. 4 at this point.
But that position did not come without its moments of scares. Ravindra gave them the biggest of them all with an innings that belied his tender age of 23.
The left-hander does not have a big frame, but what he does have is immense timing that allows him to send the ball miles into the stands when required.
Pat Cummins will vouch for that. Ravindra picked up a length ball outside the off-stump from the pacer to cart it over the covers for a six, and it was a stunner.
His batting is easy on the eyes as well – good enough back-lift and a flowing follow-through make him a good addition to the elegant left-handers’ club.
But those technicalities aside, his temperament too should be patted as Ravindra batted without even an iota of pressure against a set of battle-hardened Aussies.
The Wellington lad, who was dropped on 100 by Glenn Maxwell off his own bowling, also pieced together good stands with fellow opener Devon Conway (61), 96 with Darryl Mitchell (54) for the third wicket and 54 with Tom Latham (21) for the fourth wicket.
Ravindra reached his hundred off 77 balls with a fine six off Maxwell over deep mid-wicket. It was his second hundred in this WC after the one in the tournament opener against England at Ahmedabad.
He also joined Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill and Glenn Turner as the only Kiwi batters to have scored two hundreds in the World Cup.
But all that ended when Ravindra gave a catch to Maxwell at deep off Cummins.
Neesham did try his best to take Black Caps home with a breezy fifty but some limb-forgetting fielding by the Aussies on a dodgy HPCA stadium outfield in the last few overs denied Kiwis a remarkable win.
Australia, especially Marnus Labuschagne, were quite exceptional in that phase and they even had to field with five fielders inside the ring in the final over for slow over rate.
But they summoned every ounce of experience and athleticism to emerge on the right side of the result.
Earlier, Head, who replaced Cameron Green in the playing 11, and Warner garnered 175 runs in a mere 19.1 overs.
Head was over-aggressive in his partnership with Warner, taking on New Zealand bowlers with disdain, and it was tough to imagine that this was actually his first match of the tournament.
The left-hander replaced Mitchell Marsh, who came in at No. 3, at the pole position and never really made Australia felt the absence of the big-hitting 'Bison'.
Fortune also favoured Head while cruising to his fourth ODI hundred. Head was dropped by Mitchell Santner off his own bowling when the batter was on 70.
Five runs later, Glenn Phillips at covers allowed the ball whizz through his hands as Head tried to clatter spinner Ravindra.
But those blips apart, Head and Warner were super smooth, pulling, cutting and driving at will to make runs around the field.
But the Kiwis bowlers, normally a frugal unit under Trent Boult, could not hit the right lines and their fielders too were butterfingered, dropping five catches.
New Zealand were also not helped by the absence of pacer Lockie Ferguson, who conceded 38 runs in three overs, as he left the field with pain in his right Achilles.
The two left-handers exploited those lapses and slices of fortune to the hilt. In fact, Warner reached his fifty in 28 balls and Head his half-century in 25 balls.
With the openers in overdrive 118 runs cascaded in the first Power Play which contained a total of 10 sixes – six by Warner and four by Head.
But the breaks came in after Warner’s dismissal, caught by spinner Phillips off his own bowling. The spin trio of Phillips, Santner and Ravindra stifled the Australian middle-order.
Phillips cleaned up Head with a quicker one, while Marsh, Steve Smith and Labuschagne also fell to the gang of slow men as the Aussies lost four wickets for 74 runs in that period.
Australia needed some momentum from 274 for five, and Maxwell (41 off 24 balls), Josh Inglis (38 off 28 balls) and captain Cummins (37 off 14 balls) provided that.
Maxwell and Inglis made 62 runs between 44.4 and 47th over which in the end proved the difference. But only by just.