2009 review: Aussies hold sway

The form book was respected and Australia, the epitome of consistency and incidentally the defending champion, retained the trophy. In the final at Centurion, Australia defeated its Trans-Tasman rival New Zealand by six wickets.

The victorious Australian team after winning the ICC Champions Trophy final against New Zealand in Pretoria on October 5, 2009.   -  Reuters

Originally scheduled for 2008 in Pakistan, the sixth edition of the ICC Champions Trophy was postponed by a year. The venue, too, was overlooked owing to security concerns. South Africa hosted the event in 2009 and if change was the defining essence, be it with regard to the host or the year, conformity seemed to be the guiding principle when the actual cricket happened on the turf.

The form book was respected and Australia, the epitome of consistency and incidentally the defending champion, retained the trophy. In the final at Centurion, Australia defeated its Trans-Tasman rival New Zealand by six wickets. The result added to the aura of Ricky Ponting’s men.

New Zealand suffered the vagaries of fate as its regular skipper Daniel Vettori pulled a hamstring and had to sit out, and Brendon McCullum had the unenviable task of taking the captaincy hot seat in a big final.

Australia remained undefeated through the tournament. Ponting’s men vanquished the West Indies by 50 runs; were locked in a no-result in a rain-marred game against India; won a two-wicket thriller off the last delivery against Pakistan; crushed England by nine wickets in the semifinal and in the summit clash, rode on off-spinner Nathan Hauritz’s three for 37 and Shane Watson’s unbeaten 105 to humble New Zealand. 

It was a near-perfect display and it was no surprise when Ponting topped the tournament’s batting charts with 288 runs followed by Watson at 265. There were moments when Australia was tested, even in the final while chasing 200, the champion side was reduced to two for six in the early overs with Shane Bond and Kyle Mills causing the initial breach. Yet, like in the past, Australia found a way to forge ahead, a true mark of a quality outfit.

Other favourites like host South Africa and India fell by the wayside, not even finding a path to the semifinals but Australia held firm. “We have gone through some ups and downs in the last 18 months. A number of great players have left and we brought in a lot of young, fresh players. It was great to see some of them stand up and deliver,” Ponting said after the final.

The tournament, at that point considered an afterthought to the conventional World Cup and also coping with a new challenger in Twenty20s, showed that it still had the potential to be branded a vital event in the international calendar. 

It also showed that One Day Internationals still had life within them and that upsets were just a stone’s throw away.

McCullum summed it up well when he said: “The top eight teams in the world coming together and playing over a short period of time; I thought it (the tournament) worked well. I guess there weren't too many nail-biting games, but I still think the quality of cricket was fantastic. If 50-over cricket is to remain in the calendar, it's a great way to certainly push it with tournaments like the Champions Trophy.”

And in a twist from regular ICC tournaments and far away from its usual streak of dominance against its arch-rival, India was forced to eat humble pie against Pakistan. In a Group A match, Pakistan amassed 302 for nine with Shoaib Malik slamming a 128. In reply, India mustered 248 with Rahul Dravid etching a 76. Interestingly, Virat Kohli made 16. Those were still early days for him and he wasn’t the batting behemoth that he is now.

The match is somehow lost in the mists of time as talk about Indo-Pak clashes at Centurion is often overshadowed by Tendulkar’s famous assault on Shoaib Akhtar in that 2003 World Cup game. But it is also a tribute to the game’s glorious uncertainties that the same Centurion’s SuperSport Park threw up a game in which Pakistan turned the tables on India.

As for consolation to a host always grappling with the chokers’ tag, South Africa found succour in the tournament’s highest wicket-taker Wayne Parnell (11). Finally when the dust settled on the event, the recurring images are those of Watson’s ruthless pulls and Bond’s explosive spells. It was just sport’s travesty that one among them ended up in the losing side. The tragedy was that the West Indies continued its free-fall, a far cry from its glory days in the 1970s and 1980s.

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