Watson, bowlers power Australia to title defence
They were given a scare in a global final for the first time since the 1996 World Cup but Australia still remain the team to beat on the big day. If Australia were typically aggressive and opportunistic in setting themselves just 201 to chase, they were made to play out of character in the chase against exceptional opening spells from Kyle Mills and Shane Bond, which Shane Watson and Cameron White did with smartness and with determination.
Watson's best innings at international level, a century that earned him the Man-of-the-Match award for the second successive Champions Trophy final, was key to Australia's win. The opening spells of Mills and Bond even overshadowed that of Brett Lee and Peter Siddle. In defence of a meagre total, their lengths were immaculate. The ball that got Ricky Ponting was a perfect example: neither full enough for him to come forward, nor short enough to carry over the stumps, and the inswing trapped him in front. By then Bond had nailed Tim Paine with a full outswinger.
Along with White, Watson went into the Test-match mode, playing out the top two bowlers as if in the first session on a green top under overcast skies. They could afford to do so because of the paltriness of the target, and the absence of Daniel Vettori: he had to pull out at the last minute because of a hamstring injury. White even let go two leg-side half-volleys. Apart from that, there were hardly any scoring opportunities on offer. Except for a couple of awry calls for singles, they survived that period calmly. Starting from the seventh, five overs went for just two runs, and the bowling figures of Mills and Bond then told the story: 6-2-8-1 and 5-2-9-1 respectively.
And then the Aussie mental strength and ruthlessness came to fore. All the other four bowlers were welcomed with boundaries in their first overs. Two of them, against Ian Butler and Jeetan Patel, were deliberate efforts to signal intent; the other two, off James Franklin and Grant Elliott, were gifts down the leg side. Once both the opening bowlers were taken off, Watson turned it on to take the game away from New Zealand. He was lethally good with the horizontal bat, launching two powerful sixes to midwicket, and with the straight bat he mostly went down and along the ground.
From 7 off 28 he motored along to 49 off 72 by the 25th over. During that Watson onslaught, White presented New Zealand with a top-edge that Brendon McCullum, the stand-in captain, got under after having run backwards but dropped. That would have reduced Australia to 41 for 3 in the 18th over.
The momentum wrested, Watson took the back seat, and allowed White get into action. McCullum realised the second string of bowlers wasn't doing him any good, and called Mills and Bond back. Mills gave him another big-hearted effort, taking out White and Michael Hussey, in the process crossing Richard Hadlee's tally of 158 wickets. Both the leading bowlers' quotas were exhausted, and Watson turned it on again, bringing up his hundred and the win with back-to-back sixes.
This final will be remembered for the top-class pace bowling from both sides, on what was a true surface that yielded neither variable bounce nor much seam movement. The way Australia bowled, it seemed we would have the traditional anti-climactic final involving Australia.
All three fast bowlers were fast, accurate and menacing. Nathan Hauritz was canny on a pitch that assisted him, and Watson was stable. New Zealand were never allowed space: the first time their run-rate crossed four an over was at the end of the 43rd over, but they had lost seven wickets by then and had consumed the batting Powerplay. Ponting was proactive in attacking - even during two sizeable partnerships, he set aggressive fields, and brought back all his three strike bowlers in the middle overs to try and get breakthroughs.
A bad start for New Zealand got worse when McCullum fell for a 14-ball duck, which seemed almost inevitable. Right from the off, Lee and Siddle hit the mid-to-high 140s, with Lee getting consistent outswing as well. Three tight overs were enough to frustrate McCullum into cutting a Siddle delivery that was too close to him.
Martin Guptill and Aaron Redmond weathered the storm that the three Aussie fast bowlers worked up, but then Hauritz struck in the middle overs. A 61-run stand was followed by back-to-back strikes from Hauritz, sending back both the batsmen.
Ponting got slips in, and asked Mitchell Johnson and Lee to attack furthermore. Ross Taylor, who twice edged towards slip deliveries from Johnson straightening from a sharp round-the-wicket angle, finally played an impatient shot. Lee produced a vicious inswinging yorker to get rid of Elliott.
It then became a matter of surviving the 50 overs, and Australia never let up the pressure, despite the batting Powerplay that yielded 40 runs.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo