Australia v West Indies, DLF Cup, Final September 24, 2006

'I still don't think we played our best cricket today'



Brett Lee, declared Man of the Series, got 12 wickets at 9.00 from three games © Getty Images

Ricky Ponting admitted that Australia hadn't been on their A game this tournament, but was delighted by the manner of their triumph, with the players having come in from an off-season that lasted nearly five months. And though they don't play their first Champions Trophy game for nearly a month, he reckoned that victory here would stand the team in good stead for their tilt at the only trophy missing from the cabinet.

"I still don't think we played our best cricket today," he said. "It was a bit difficult to judge with the way the wicket behaved. It's been pretty difficult for all the batsman. We got a couple of good partnerships at the top and it allowed Simmo [Andrew Symonds] and Huss (Michael Hussey) to play some shots at the end. Looking back at the last two weeks or three weeks, it's been very successful with the experimentation we have had.

"It's nice to play at a certain level in the final. The last two games have been pretty good displays. We have had to guts it out with the bat, and then to dominate in the field and with the ball it has been pleasing. Even the game we lost to the West Indies, we made 270-odd with the bat and didn't do too badly with the ball. Lara and Gayle just played well that night."

He brushed off suggestions that West Indies had surrendered meekly when it mattered most, preferring instead to focus on his team's strengths. "I don't think any side that plays at this level surrenders at all," he said. "We happened to bowl very well early on, and as I said at the toss the other evening, West Indies have not chased well at any time through the series. We knew we'd be on top if we got Gayle and Lara, and thankfully, Brett got Gayle first ball and Lara went shortly after."

Ponting didn't think that the win was any more satisfying simply because Australia had tinkered with the line-up so much in the group stages. "We always believed that any side we put on the field was good enough to win," he said. "It's nice to come out here and play at a reasonable level after not having played at all."

Though Simon Katich struggled dreadfully at the top of the innings, Ponting hinted that he would still be persisted with at the Champions Trophy. "It was not an easy wicket to bat on," he said. "Simon was telling me it was difficult to get off strike. There was no pace at all with the new ball, and it was sitting up and hard to get the ball off the middle of the bat. He worked his way through that and gave us a pretty good foundation."

There was praise too for Damien Martyn, another whose spot in the eleven has come under pressure in recent times. "I thought he played very well today," said Ponting. "It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on as I can tell you. Damien went in and hit everything off the middle. The role he played today was to go in and spend a little time and build a partnership. It will do his confidence a lot of good as well."

Martyn and Symonds injected some life into the innings with a 73-run partnership that allowed Hussey, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin to lace together a few shots at the end, with Symonds' quickfire half-century once again underlying his value to the side. "He's a pretty complete player, isn't he?" replied Ponting, when asked to assess a man who was on the fringes till three years ago. "He's one of the best fielders in the world as well.

"His role over the last couple of years has not changed much. There's no reason why he can't move up and down the order. He has been one of those players who can adapt to the game. He can bat at three or four with the Power Play coming into the game. It is handy to have such versatility in your team."



'He's a pretty complete player, isn't he?' : Andrew Symonds has Ponting's full backing © Getty Images

Lee, declared Man of the Series, was understandably delighted with his return of 12 wickets at 9.00. Though it was hard to say whether he knew if his first delivery was a no ball, Lee beamed when asked about the dramatic start to the innings. "The plan was to get that ball to swing back in," he said, "but I never thought in my wildest dreams that he [Gayle] would be out the first ball."

His opening partner, Glenn McGrath, picked up just one wicket in the tournament, but conceded a mere 71 runs in 26 overs. Ponting wasn't too concerned by the lack of wickets either. "He's still got a few things to work on," he said candidly. "If you sat down and spoke to him, he probably wouldn't be jumping up and down about his bowling. But he still got through six overs for six runs. He just needs to get a few more overs under his belt."

Australia may yet face West Indies in their opening Champions Trophy game on October 18, and Ponting's thoughts were clearly on filling in the only gap in the resume. "It's the second biggest one-day tournament that we play, and it has eluded Australia," he said. "We've been knocked out in the semifinals the last two times. I think we have the squad and the players to challenge seriously this time, and we've played some good cricket in Indian conditions before."

On this evidence, they'll take some beating.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo