Watson, Ponting crack the whip

It was a night when the Aussies reminded the world that they could still be a formidable force. A potentially hazardous target of 258 was achieved with ridiculous ease as Shane Watson and Ricky Ponting slammed hundreds. Over to S. DINAKAR.

Great white balls of fire lit up the night sky. This was fireworks of a different kind at Centurion. Rain stayed away, but it rained sixes from the bludgeoning bat of Shane Watson even as spectators in the stands beyond midwicket and square-leg took cover. And skipper Ricky Ponting personified elegance from the other end. He batted in a manner that was sublime.

It was a night when the Aussies reminded the world that they could still be a formidable force. A potentially hazardous target of 258 was achieved with ridiculous ease. Australia was through to the final of the ICC Champions Trophy. The display was as authoritative as it was brutal.

Watson (136 not out, 132b, 10x4, 7x6) and Ricky Ponting (111 not out, 115b, 12x4, 1x6) put their foot on the accelerator to overtake England with lots to spare. The Aussies were home in the 42nd over with nine wickets remaining.

It was also a night of records. The unbeaten 252-run partnership in 40.2 overs is the highest second-wicket association for Australia in ODIs. This was also the highest stand for any wicket in an ODI at Centurion.

Watson revelled with his pulls, making a mockery of the unwise short stuff from the English pacemen. He picked the length in a jiffy and was ready with his response.

Ponting used his feet with precision and drove wonderfully through cover and point — off either foot — finding the gaps with the ease of a maestro. His batting is a lot about balance and timing. He gets into position early and gives himself that much more time to ease the ball through the empty areas. Ponting, during his century, became the first Australian to go past the 12,000-run mark in ODIs. He later paid tribute to the legendary Sachin Tendulkar and said how the Indian batsman’s deeds had raised the benchmark and forced the other batsmen to lift their game as well.

An imperious cover-drive off paceman Tim Bresnan took Ponting to his 28th ODI hundred. Man of the Match Watson’s third ODI century arrived when he launched into a pull off England paceman James Anderson. Injuries have played havoc with Watson’s career, but he has kept the fire burning. The big-built all-rounder is re-discovering himself as an opener. He drove with a pleasingly straight blade and took full toll of the deliveries lacking in length with fierce pulls. And Watson cashed in on any width outside the off-stump with cuts and slashes.

At the end of it all, Watson acknowledged Ponting’s role as captain. He dwelt on his skipper’s words of encouragement and advice in the middle and how these big games had enabled him to evolve.

England struck at the start. Tim Paine was snared outside the off-stump by Graham Onions. Then Ponting joined Watson and the contest turned on its head. The English pacemen did not bowl to their strength — two-way swing from around the off-stump. They tended to bang it in short and played into the Aussies’ hands.

The pace and bounce of the injured Stuart Broad was missed by England. Under the circumstances, off-spinner Graeme Swann was the key bowler for England. But Watson took Swann on, slog-sweeping the bowler for a six and lofting him to the long-on fence, England was dented psychologically.

And swing bowler Anderson, struggling for rhythm, was square-driven, whipped and cover-driven for boundaries by Ponting. There were no comebacks for England.

Earlier, all-rounders Tim Bresnan (80, 76b, 11x4) and Luke Wright (48) led an English revival after the side — opting to bat — had slumped to 101 for six. The 107-run partnership in 118 deliveries kept England in the game after Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson and Watson had made serious inroads.

Bresnan drove powerfully on either side of the wicket and also collected runs with upper-cuts and rather cheeky dab shots. Wright, severe on off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, whom he twice slog-swept for sixes, batted with enterprise in a pressure situation.

The partnership ended when Wright (48, 68b, 2x4, 2x6) chased one from paceman Siddle for ’keeper Tim Paine to hold his fifth catch of the innings. The Australian was outstanding behind the stumps. Bresnan, making room to crash Brett Lee through covers, was done in by a yorker.

Earlier, Paul Collingwood attacked the Aussie bowlers with a 30-ball 34 before Johnson nailed him with a scorching short-pitched delivery. The Aussie pacemen sent down some erratic stuff in the second half of the innings but Watson and Ponting ensured these would not prove costly.

THE SCORES First semifinal

England: A. Strauss c Hopes b Siddle 14; J. Denly c Paine b Siddle 36; O. Shah c Paine b Lee 0; P. Collingwood c Paine b Johnson 34; E. Morgan c Paine b Watson 9; S. Davies b Watson 5; L. Wright c Paine b Siddle 48; T. Bresnan b Lee 80; G. Swann (run out) 18; J. Anderson (not out) 5; G. Onions (run out) 1; Extras (w-6, nb-1) 7. Total (in 47.4 overs) 257.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-16, 3-71, 4-91, 5-100, 6-101, 7-208, 8-245, 9-251.

Australia bowling: Lee 9-0-46-2; Siddle 10-0-55-3; Hopes 4-0-28-0; Johnson 10-1-61-1; Watson 8.4-1-35-2; Hauritz 6-0-32-0.

Australia: S. Watson (not out) 136; T. Paine c Davies b Onions 4; R. Ponting (not out) 111; Extras (lb-2, w-5) 7. Total (for one wkt., in 41.5 overs) 258.

Fall of wicket: 6.

England bowling: Anderson 8.5-0-48-0; Onions 8-0-47-1; Bresnan 8-0-51-0; Collingwood 8-0-50-0; Swann 5-0-31-0; Wright 3-0-18-0; Shah 1-0-11-0.