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October 2, 2009
England came out swinging, went down for the count, rallied briefly and were then knocked clean out of the ring. After Tim Bresnan and Luke Wright had done a sterling job of rebuilding the innings, England were undone by some magnificent batting, with Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson adding an unbeaten 252 for the second wicket, an Australian record. Where England's top order had gone for broke, Australia played the percentages, and waltzed into yet another major final.
"We were definitely keen to go out and play our shots on a good wicket, and unfortunately it didn't come off for us today," said Andrew Strauss after the game. "It's one of those things. If you live by the sword, you die by it. It's frustrating. When you lose six wickets for a 100 runs on that sort of surface, you're always struggling. I thought Tim Bresnan played exceptionally well and Luke Wright supported him. We weren't completely out of the game at the halfway mark, but I did think it was a wicket on which 300 was the par score. We were still quite light, and needed three or four early wickets which we weren't able to get."
Strauss admitted the late-order revival had given him a little hope. South Africa and India had faltered while chasing targets in Centurion earlier in the tournament, but there were no such blips for Australia. "You always hope that under lights, it [the pitch] might misbehave a bit more," said Strauss. "And to be fair, there's pressure chasing a total like that. In order to make that pressure count in your favour, you need early wickets. We were able to get one, but Ponting and Watson played exceptionally well."
England came into this tournament with the mantra that they wouldn't "die wondering". When asked whether that approach had been taken to extremes in the semi-final, Strauss defended his players. "Any time you play a shot and it doesn't come off, you can be criticised for that. I think as a template going forward, we've got to keep playing our shots. That's important. We've got to get better at our skills so that the percentages are more and more in our favour. That's what we have to work on.
"I think it was refreshing to see the guys going out there and expressing themselves. I think they enjoy playing that way a lot more. To cope with these teams away from home, we need to do it more and more. There's obviously a case for playing the conditions a little bit better. But today was a good wicket, and it was just one of those days when the shots didn't come off for us."
After being beaten out of sight in the one-day series against Australia at home, Strauss said there were quite a few positives to take out of a tournament in which they beat both Sri Lanka and South Africa. "The seven matches against Australia, I think we went backwards," he said. "But over here, I think we've come forward a bit. I think the guys have gained some confidence and they have gone out and played in the right sort of manner.
"We always said that at the end of this is a bit of a watershed, and we have got to look at where we are as a side and how we can improve. We have got the five one-dayers against South Africa which will be a nice way to start that forward progress. We can take a lot from what we've done in this tournament. There's been some excellent cricket played by us. But if we're honest with ourselves, we're not close enough to the top two or three teams in the world yet. We've got a lot of hard work to do if we want to get there."
There was little hesitation when he was asked which team he now fancied to pick up the trophy. "It's hard to look past Australia," he said. "They're on a great run, they're the defending champions. They'll be hard to beat. Pakistan are capable of anything. They can beat anyone on their day, and New Zealand have got some good shot players as well. For me, Australia are favourites, but there's a lot of cricket still to be played."
England are the only major cricket-playing nation not to win a World Cup or an ICC Champions Trophy, but Strauss insisted that such facts had been far from the mind when he turned up for Friday's game. "This was a great opportunity for us to go some way to putting that right," he said. "We were really excited about playing Australia today. We'd obviously come off second-best against them in England, but we felt that with the type of cricket we were playing out here, we had a good chance of challenging them. But they were too good for us today. Their bowlers bowled very attacking lines and lengths, and asked some questions of our batsmen. That's one of the things they've got going in their favour. They've got a lot of variety in their bowling."
England's next assignment will see them back in South Africa in November, and this Champions Trophy campaign would have gone a long way towards finalising a squad for that series. "We'll have to sit down with the selectors in the next couple of days," said Strauss. "I think we've got some fairly strong ideas of where we want to go as a side. There may be one or two changes. I can't imagine that there'd be wholesale ones. "The guys go off and have a well-earned break, but in the back of our minds we'll know that the tour over here will be a tough one for us. It'll be a good gauge for where we are as a side, both in Tests and one-day cricket."
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth
Plays of the Day from the third ODI between India and West Indies, in Kanpur