Ponting confident of title victory
Having edged out India by 18 runs in a gripping tussle on Friday night, Ricky Ponting was confident of carrying the momentum forward into Sunday's final against West Indies. Despite chopping and changing the side over the four league games, Australia managed to top the standings, and Ponting was determined that the preparation for the Champions Trophy would be completed in the best possible fashion, with victory in the final.
"It was a terrific win by the team last night," he said. "We've managed to win just enough games to make it through to the final, and the guys have had a chance to play some cricket and worked really hard in the last couple of weeks." Ponting also suggested that the team taking the park on Sunday would be very close to that which would contest a group featuring India, England and possibly West Indies at the Champions Trophy next month.
"I think it'll be pretty close, the team we've picked has had to come out of that Champions Trophy squad, so that's the way we're looking at it," he said. "I don't think there'll be many changes, apart from Brad [Haddin], who'll be replaced by Adam [Gilchrist] of course. There can't be anyway because we've only got 14 in the squad."
Having lost Monday's game and survived a massive scare in the tournament opener, there was no question of taking the West Indian challenge lightly. "They were probably in position to win the first game as well and we got out of that one," said Ponting. "We nearly pegged them back in the second game chasing runs, so they've been a little bit shaky chasing, which is a good sign going into a big game. It'll be nice to get a total on the board tomorrow and see if they can chase them again.
"They've played well, but I think their batting relies on a couple of players and their bowling's been helped by the conditions in the series. They were the ones that deserved to get to the final first, and now that we're there, we can hopefully put on a good show."
While he indicated that Shane Watson would once again open - he made 79 from 74 balls against India last week - Ponting had no issues with the manner in which teams had been picked during the fortnight. "It didn't necessarily come down to the best performers. Looking at someone like Andrew Symonds, he hasn't made many runs in this series but you're not going to leave him out, are you? He's a matchwinner."
There were no concerns over his own form, though he hasn't played a big innings since stroking a superb 54 in the opening game. "It'd be nice to get some tomorrow," he said. "I think I've actually been a bit stiff in a couple of the games. I got one that didn't bounce in the first game and was caught at short fine leg and then fine leg in the other two innings, but that's the way it goes. I feel okay, so hopefully that score can be tomorrow."
There was praise too for Haddin, who leaves for home after the final, after some eye-catching displays in this competition. "I was a bit surprised looking at the television last night, and seeing that he'd played 18 one day games for us," he said. "I didn't think he'd played that many. But he's just matured a lot as a player, I think having a leadership role with New South Wales has helped him out, and whenever he's come in, in a lot of different roles, he's looked at home. He's got a lot of years ahead of him, and would be able to slot into our national side very easily."
Brad Hogg, who played such a vital role in the defeat of India, was another who keenly awaited the final clash. "It rained the other night [the first game against India] when I got a crack and I was just looking to get some overs under my belt," he said, when asked about the India game. "I'm very happy with how that went and very happy about the team getting into the final.
"It's just a matter of chipping in and doing what's best for the team. I was happy to do that job, and I think the team is now starting to gel after a few months' break." When quizzed about he had set up Suresh Raina, finally getting him with a googly that he didn't read, Hogg smiled and said: "You bowl to each player and try to work them out, but the more you bowl to them, the more they start to read you. So hopefully, you get them out cheaply and they don't get that chance."
Though his evening was soured somewhat by Fremantle, his Aussies Rules Football team losing a preliminary final, Hogg was delighted to be back in the mix, having been in and out of the side in recent seasons, despite playing a prominent role in the World Cup triumph of 2003. "The way the team's been picked over the last couple of years, Watto [Shane Watson] and myself have been in and out of the team," he said. "If you go back to when Ian Harvey was playing, I think it was either me or Ian going in and out of the team. That's the way it's been and we'll see how it goes down the track. I definitely want to play in the next World Cup; to defend the title would be sensational."
For the moment, all his thoughts concerned West Indies, and a tilt at a first trophy of the season. "We've got a good line-up and I think we can take out the West Indies," he said. "I think we've got to target Lara and Gayle, make sure they don't get a good start. If we can put the pressure on them, it adds to the pressure on the lower order."
Some Australian newspapers may have dubbed it the 'Who Cares Cup', but don't go telling that to the players. Now that they're in the final, with all the experimentation behind them, there's only one thing on their minds. With the Champions Trophy, the only bauble missing from the cabinet, and the Ashes looming, an emphatic victory tomorrow will be just the springboard that Ponting and his team need for the arduous season ahead.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo