Champions Trophy Final

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Dominant Australia retain their crown

shane watson champions trophyAustralia yesterday successfully defended their ICC Champions Trophy against a stubborn New Zealand side by six wickets at Centurion to regain their status as the pre-eminent 50 overs side in the World. Indeed, including their World Cup success in the Caribbean of 2007, Ricky Ponting’s men have now won three ICC 50 over tournaments in a row.

After losing the toss (the only thing Ponting hasn’t been good at recently), Australia restricted New Zealand to 200/9 from their 50 overs, with Nathan Hauritz and Brett Lee the standout bowlers. Despite the early loss of Tim Paine and Ponting, which left their side at 6/2, Shane Watson and Cameron White constructed a partnership of 128 to take their side to the verge of victory. They had to work hard though as Kyle Mills and Shane Bond both bowled excellent opening spells – the score was only 18/2 after ten overs and Brendan McCullum dropped White off a skier when he was only 14. That would have left Australia 41/3 in the eighteenth over. With the opportunity squandered, the pair marched on. Watson scored his second unbeaten century in a row, reaching it by hitting the last two balls of the match from Jeetan Patel for two enormous sixes.

The day couldn’t have started worse for the Black Caps as their inspirational skipper Daniel Vettori, man of the match in the semi final win against Pakistan, was ruled out by a hamstring injury and was replaced by Patel. Acting captain McCullum then won the toss and opted to bat on what looked like a good batting wicket. The pitch had certainly played well throughout the tournament but the overcast conditions offered assistance to the seamers and Hauritz was able to extract some turn in an impressive spell of 3/37 from his ten overs.

Things didn’t get any better for McCullum when after 13 scoreless deliveries Peter Siddle found some extra bounce and induced a nick from the Kiwi opener to Paine. Siddle and Lee had bowled with speed and accuracy and McCullum, unaccustomed to being tied down; let his frustration get the better of him. Martin Guptill joined Aaron Redmond and despite the latter struggling in only his second ODI, the two built a second wicket stand of 61 before Hauritz sent back both batsmen in quick succession.

Ponting went in for the kill and brought back Lee to partner Johnson and set attacking fields. The tactic paid dividends when first Ross Taylor sliced a drive off Johnson to a flying Hussey at point and then Lee trapped Grant Elliott in front with an inswinging yorker. That left the Kiwis in disarray at 94/5 in the 26th over and in danger of capitulation.

But Neil Broom and James Franklin compiled a brave partnership of 65 as they battled to try and set Australia some sort of target. Broom surpassed his previous ODI high of 29 and was starting to look good when on 37 he was run out after a dreadful mix up. Franklin followed in the next over when he was bowled by a Lee yorker. After that the tail struggled through the rest of the 50 overs, setting what everyone thought was a way below par target of 201.

However, Mills and Bond took their cue from Lee and Siddle’s fantastic opening spells and if anything theirs was even more impressive. First, Paine got an edge to a Bond outswinger with Taylor taking a good low catch at first slip. Then the prize wicket of Ponting – rapped on the pads by a perfect length inswinger from Mills. White was promoted up the order ahead of Hussey, probably so the latter was available to shepherd the tail if required. With Watson, White went into test match mode, looking to play out Mills and Bond and wait for the lesser Black Caps bowlers – between the two their opening spell was a phenomenal 11-4-17-2. It proved to be a good strategy, but would they have achieved the same positive result if Vettori had played?

Once Mills and Bond had been replaced, Watson in particular began to open up with each of the other four Kiwi bowlers being hit for boundaries in their opening overs. What a topsy-turvy tournament Watson has had. Two ducks in his first two innings and two unbeaten centuries in his last two. Indeed, he was made man of the match for the second successive ICC Champions Trophy final and repaid in spades the faith shown in him by Ponting and the Australian selectors.

White too has made a huge leap in performance since the start of the Nat West series in England where he was given the responsibility of batting at three in the absence of the rested Ponting. Here after reaching 62 off 102 balls, he made a late decision to leave one from Mills, but didn’t get his bat out of the way in time and played on. Hussey came and went to give Mills his third wicket and it was left to James Hopes to accompany Watson over the line.

As the only unbeaten side in the tournament, Australia unquestionably deserved to retain their trophy. Despite being without the injured Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Nathan Bracken, Australia looked strong throughout. Paine and Watson have proved to be a good opening pair and Ponting, always one for the big occasion, is simply the best batsman of his generation. Hussey looks to have recaptured close to his best form and White has done well. In the bowling department there are three bowlers who bowl regularly at 90mph (is there a better fast bowler in ODI than Lee?) and Hauritz has proved the doubters wrong.

The tournament has breathed new life into the 50 over game and the World Cup would benefit from a similar slimmed down format. The ICC must learn from this and make a rule to abolish any more seven match series’ – unfortunately Australia travel to India for such a series at the end of October.

Match 15: The Final – Centurion Australia 201/4 (45.2 overs) Watson 105 not out, White 62, Mills 3/27 beat New Zealand 200/9 (50 overs) Guptill 40, Hauritz 3/37 by six wickets

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