Back in the groove

Published : Oct 17, 2009 00:00 IST

Ponting’s men were buzzing in Johannesburg and Centurion. They dished out a vibrant brand of cricket underlined by self-belief. Australia was also a side of multi-dimensional cricketers, writes S. Dinakar.

Australia’s triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy and the ODI series against England is no compensation for the setback it suffered in the Ashes. The five-Test series against the traditional rival in Old Blighty was the marquee event of the long Australian campaign that stretched from the ICC World Twenty20 to the elite ODI tournament in South Africa.

This said, the Aussies are emerging as a force again in one-day cricket. The shortcomings of depth and variety in bowling — the absence of leg-spinning giant Shane Warne was severely felt in Test cricket — were masked well in the one-day format.

Ricky Ponting’s men were buzzing in Johannesburg and Centurion. They dished out a vibrant brand of cricket underlined by self-belief. Australia was also a side of multi-dimensional cricketers.

Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, James Hopes and Cameron White — although he bowled little — are all all-rounders. The presence of these men, along with Brett Lee, who can also do some damage with the bat, provided Australia with immense depth.

Gradually, the Aussies are changing the profile of their ODI team. Men such as Watson and White are also big, strong and physically imposing. Australia made light of the fitness concerns as well; Michael Clarke missed out with a sore back, Nathan Bracken pulled out with a knee problem, and Brad Haddin nursed a broken finger. The Australians found the right options, at least for ODI cricket.

None sparkled brighter than Shane Watson. The injury-prone pace-bowling all-rounder is in the midst of a sustained run of good fitness although one can never be too certain about this Aussie on the injury front. His mind and body in harmony, Watson has blossomed. The Aussie’s back-to-back unbeaten hundreds in the semifinals and final were innings of decisive and powerful stroke-play at the top of the order.

The switch in Watson’s slot has turned his batting around. And he has also bowled with verve, hitting the deck hard and extracting bounce.

Watson — essentially a hustler with the ball — employed the short-ball-fuller-length routine capably. He does add meat to the Aussie line-up as a versatile cricketer who has a sense of occasion. He was adjudged Man of the Final.

Ponting’s bowling changes were smart and his field placements slick. Except in the final, his batting was a symphony of balance, timing and placement. His cover-drives were delightful, and there have not been too many more proficient pullers in the history of the game. The Punter was the Man of the Series.

For most part the Australian batting was solid — wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Paine pulled his weight in opening the innings and the left-handed Michael Hussey was crisp and confident while drilling the ball through the open spaces. And White was a revelation with the willow.

The Aussie pace attack meant business. Lee’s toe-crushers were on target. Peter Siddle probed the batsmen with an off-stump line enhanced by speed, movement and bounce. Left-armer Mitchell Johnson used the short ball to telling effect on occasions and caused some damage with his natural angle from over the wicket. He erred in line on a few occasions. Watson proved a capable support seamer.

Off-spinner Nathan Hauritz — he scalped three in the final — varied his length well and spun the ball. He released the ball late after spotting early the movement of a batsman. Gradually, the Aussie attack is settling down.

England was blown away by the Watson–Ponting association at SuperSport Park. And the Kiwis, defending just 200 in the final and without their inspirational leader Daniel Vettori, suffered next against Watson’s punishing blade.

The Australian’s rather two-eyed stance puts him in a wonderful position to execute the pull stroke. The stance also gives him an opportunity to have a good look at deliveries around the off-stump. However, he can, potentially, get into trouble against deliveries darting back.

But then, Watson did move his left foot across well to cover the off-stump. His methods were simple. Watson’s footwork was in keeping with the length of the ball. He played the fuller balls with a full face of the bat and struck straight and hard. Anything short was cut and pulled with strength and precision. The ball was regularly dumped into the stands beyond square-leg and mid-wicket.

He also used the depth of the crease for the delicate dab shot between point and third man. And Watson handled pressure with composure and judicious stroke-play. When the occasion demanded, he was firm and solid in defence.

Australia was certainly in a stressful situation at six for two in the summit clash at Centurion. Watson, following up his unbeaten hundred against England in the semifinal, scored a terrific unbeaten 105 (129b, 10x4, 4x6) as the final was nailed by Ponting’s men. He concluded the chase by despatching successive deliveries from the hapless off-spinner, Jeetan Patel, into the crowd beyond the mid-wicket boundary. Watson, batting in the Zone, thwacked balls over the ropes at will.

Skipper Ponting said at the end of it all, “He (Watson) has exceeded expectations.”

New Zealand had an opportunity to get back into the game, but a chance was spilled. Australia was 41 for two and under immense pressure when Cameron White top edged an attempted pull off seamer Ian Butler. Stand-in captain and ’keeper Brendon McCullum began a desperate pursuit to short fine-leg to get under the high ball only to spill the chance.

Watson and White (62, 102b, 7x4) put Australia on the road again. The 128-run partnership for the third wicket in 195 balls swung the match around. Despite a couple of late strikes by Mills, the game was past the Kiwis.

Promoted in the order — the left-handed Michael Hussey was held back by the Aussie think-tank while Callum Ferguson had wrenched his knee while fielding — White came up with a crucial effort. When the new ball was darting around under the lights, White covered his off-stump and got a big stride in. Once he survived the tentative, early period, he was strong square off the wicket on either side and drove with panache.

Earlier, Shane Bond and Kyle Mills bowled with intensity and precision with the new ball. Bond worked up serious speeds and took the ball away from the right-hander from an impeccable off-stump line. Mills, off a quick-arm action, was getting the ball to skid back.

Bond prised out Tim Paine with one that swung away, while Mills trapped the in-form Ponting leg-before with a delivery that came in to the right-hander; this was a big scalp.

Both pacemen gave little away, the fielding was sharp and the runs dried up. Between the seventh and the 11th overs, Watson and White could score just one run.

White ended the deadlock with a fierce square cut when Butler delivered one marginally wide. The Aussies were on the road again.

Ponting was pleased about “the younger guys standing up.”

Earlier, the Aussies were aggressive in the arena after McCullum opted to bat. The absence of Vettori — the skipper had pulled a hamstring — was a crushing blow to a side already ravaged by injuries.

The Australian bowling created the pressure with tight bowling — the normally attacking McCullum was kept scoreless for 13 deliveries before he fatally chose to cut a Siddle delivery that was too close to his body — and the bowlers were lifted by sharp fielding; Hussey was outstanding.

The Kiwis fought back with Aaron Redmond and Martin Guptill (40) essaying a few pleasing drives. Hauritz dismissed both. Redmond, giving the charge, was done in by one deliberately pitched wide and Guptill, deceived by a shift in length, knocked the ball back to the bowler. The talented Ross Taylor let his side down once again, slicing Johnson to a leaping Hussey at point. Grant Elliott, in fine nick, could not get his bat down in time as a Lee yorker swung in. The New Zealand innings was in a deep mess at 94 for five in the 27th over when James Franklin joined Neil Broom. The right-left pair took the score towards a measure of respectability. The Kiwis were 151 for five at the 40-over mark.

The partnership ended when Broom (37) was run out after a mix-up over a sharp single. Soon, a Lee thunderbolt — a yorker — from round the wicket crashed past the left-handed Franklin’s (33) defence.

New Zealand did not have enough runs on the board and Australia retained the title with plenty to spare.


ICC Champions Trophy final: SuperSport Park, Centurion, October 5, 2009.

New Zealand: B. B. McCullum c Paine b Siddle 0; A. J. Redmond st Paine b Hauritz 26; M. J. Guptill c & b Hauritz 40; L. R. P. L. Taylor c Hussey b Johnson 6; G. D. Elliott lbw b Lee 9; N. T. Broom (run out) 37; J. E. C. Franklin b Lee 33; K. D. Mills (run out) 12; I. G. Butler lbw b Hauritz 6; J. S. Patel (not out) 16; S. E. Bond (not out) 3; Extras (b-1, lb-2, w-9) 12. Total (for 9 wkts; 50 overs) 200.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-66, 3-77, 4-81, 5-94, 6-159, 7-166, 8-174, 9-187.

Australia bowling: Lee 10-1-45-2; Siddle 10-1-30-1; Johnson 10-1-35-1; Watson 10-0-50-0; Hauritz 10-0-37-3.

Australia: S. R. Watson (not out) 105; T. D. Paine c Taylor b Bond 1; R. T. Ponting lbw b Mills 1; C. L. White b Mills 62; M. E. K. Hussey c Patel b Mills 11; J. R. Hopes (not out) 22; Extras (lb-3, w-1) 4. Total (for 4 wkts; 45.2 overs) 206.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-6, 3-134, 4-156.

New Zealand bowling: Mills 10-2-27-3; Bond 10-2-34-1; Butler 9-0-50-0; Franklin 9-0-42-0; Patel 6.2-0-44-0; Elliott 1-0-6-0.

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