Australia v New Zealand, ICC Champions Trophy, final, Centurion October 6, 2009

Australia find men for all seasons

The past couple of years haven't been easy for Australia but they have proved again that champion sides are rarely so by coincidence

Once again, as they had for most of the tournament, Australia found a way. After their spirited run, New Zealand found their limitations exposed, but the final was yet another opportunity for Australia to show their real strength. Their undefeated record may point to utter dominance, but it wasn't always that way. The real story of the event was how Australia overcame every obstacle, and in doing so they proved themselves fitting champions of a tournament that finally proved worthy of its name.

In every contest apart from the one against England, whom they overwhelmed, there remained periods and moments when their opponents came within a blow or two of knocking them down. West Indies had them wobbling at the start of their innings and then on the ropes in the final phase on a juicy Wanderers pitch; the Indian bowlers had them on a leash in the initial overs in Centurion; Pakistan came within two wickets of packing them out of the tournament; and today Kyle Mills and Shane Bond bowled sensationally to create a top-order breach that could have been fatal. But on every occasion Australia fought their way out.

Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson shone brightest, but it wasn't them alone. It was the big men and the little men, the veterans and the rookies, the fast men and the slow man, and a stand-in wicketkeeper-batsman. Brett Lee came back to lead the attack; Peter Siddle provided aggression at the start; Mitchell Johnson, strong as ever, never let things slip, and turned a match with the bat; Nathan Hauritz provided the wickets when things could have drifted away, and crucial runs in a heart-stopping finish; Cameron White got the runs when they were needed most; Tim Paine sparkled behind the wicket and in front of it a couple of times; and when needed, Mike Hussey stabilised the middle order. In that, it was a typically Australian performance: they had battled as a team; in every crisis they found a man, or men, who were willing to stand up.

The past couple of years haven't been easy for them. They have had to get used to the idea of defeat, lost Test series at home and abroad, dropped down the world rankings, and been knocked out early from both the World Twenty20 tournaments. Many teams would have gone into freefall had they lost players of such quality as Australia did. Yet even through their struggles Australia never lost their competitive edge.

It would be premature to suggest that by pocketing the Champions Trophy they have regained their aura, but through this campaign they have proved once again that champion sides are rarely champions by coincidence.

It could be argued that the venues suited the strengths of two of the four semi-finalists. The bowler-friendly pitches at the Wanderers were to New Zealand's advantage, and Centurion proved a better venue for Pakistan in their crunch match against India.

Pace bowling being their strength, Australia would have found the Wanderers more suitable, but they adjusted beautifully to Centurion. And did anyone ever hear them moaning about the absence of Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Nathan Bracken? All three would certainly have made it into the playing XI.

The secret of their record in world championships is no secret at all. Since 1999, they have won every major one-day final they have featured in, and as Ponting pointed out, they have lost only one match in the last four majors: two World Cups and two Champions Trophies. In the finals, their opponents have not been merely beaten, they have been crushed. In 1999, Pakistan were bowled out for 132; in 2003, India were blasted for 359 runs; in 2006, West Indies were blown away for 138; and in 2007, Sri Lanka were taken for 281 in 38 overs in a rain-affected final. In all these games, the fate of the match was as good as sealed at the innings break.

That seemed the case today too, and it is to New Zealand's credit that they remained in the game in the middle stages of the Australian innings. But once again, the Australians had begun in top gear.

Pace bowling being their strength, Australia would have found the Wanderers more suitable, but they adjusted beautifully to Centurion. And did anyone ever hear them moaning about the absence of Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Nathan Bracken?

Lee, who has been bowling splendidly since his comeback in the one-day series in England, and Siddle, who has acquired more and more menace as the tournament progressed, were so switched on that the New Zealand openers found themselves fending at balls from the first over.

Brendon McCullum dismissed himself out of desperation, trying to snatch what he might have considered his first opportunity after being rendered scoreless for 13 balls. As it turned out, the ball from Siddle was not short or wide enough for the cut. New Zealand had lost their captain, and their most influential player, on the eve of the match, and the stand-in captain was gone 15 minutes into the game. From there on, it was a losing battle.

However manfully they fought, New Zealand were undone by bursts of brilliance from their opponents. Hussey pouched a super catch at point to send back the dangerous Ross Taylor, Lee produced two terrific yorkers to get rid of Martin Guptill and James Franklin, Ponting hit the stumps to run out Kyle Mills, Hauritz had the presence of mind to fire the ball in wide to defeat an advancing Aaron Redmond, and Lee returned to terrorise the tailenders with sharp bouncers.

In contrast, New Zealand's best chance came and went. At 41 for 2 in the 18th over, White, who had then scored 15 off 44 balls, top-edged a pull, and McCullum sprinted half-way to the fine-leg boundary, only to misjudge the ball at the final moment. By no means was it an easy catch, but on a day like this it was likely that an Australian fielder would have caught it.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Benjamin on October 9, 2009, 6:45 GMT

    Crankypet I like your Analysis unlike that of BrianChrales who seems to have little clue. You can only beat those you come up against and the Aussies were good enough to do that.

    IND, SA, SRI all played weaker sides and failed to make it through. That is why they aren't No.1 and Australia is.

    At the end of the day if you're upset that the Aussies won because they played weaker sides check the record books in 10 years time to see who won the final, and it will read AUS. No one will care how they got there - all that matters is the took the trophy.

  • Anthony on October 7, 2009, 19:56 GMT

    @BrianCharlesVivek Yeah, Australia got lucky by playing all the weaker teams......Eng, Pak, NZ.....the ones that all made the semi finals instead of your list of "top" teams. Brilliant analysis....not!

  • Shiva on October 7, 2009, 18:22 GMT

    I have a theory...Australia won this trophy because they were the most match-practiced, full-strength team going into the tournament. Simple as that, I believe. 7 ODIs is a lot of match practice. Other teams just didnt have that opportunity and/or the full-strength. One more thing is that on the teams with least pressure have a leg up. Australia were under no pressure to prove that they are the No 1 team and just played to their merits.

  • Vivek on October 7, 2009, 14:19 GMT

    Hmm. Aus deserved to win not only due to their brilliance, but with a bit of luck as well. They hadnt faced two of the top 4 teams - SL , SA and of course India. They somehow managed to capitalize their advantage against the weaker teams like Pak,Eng and NZ. Their fade would have been certainly different against tha other teams.

  • Ritesh on October 7, 2009, 6:14 GMT

    Well played Australia! Desreved winners of the Champions Trophy. What set Australia apart from other teams in this competition is that in each game, they found someone in the team who was willing to stand up. Johnson, Hussey, Lee, Hauritz, Watson, and of course Ponting, came good when the team needed most. No doubt, SA had a better and more balanced team on paper, but their bowling looked rusty and eventually that is what brought about their downfall. The other team that I would like to laud is NZ. They showed a lot of character and determination. If Vettori had played the final, would the result have been any different? One can only guess...

  • Josh on October 6, 2009, 20:14 GMT

    What distinguishes Australia from the other cricket nations is their ability to play as a unit. This is partly due to the real honor they place on representing their country.

    But it is also achieved through the rituals and mysticism surrounding the Australian team which is unlike any other team. The Test captaincy is held in such high esteem and importance it's as if you have witnessed the coronation of a King. And their captains captain for long periods: Border, Taylor, Waugh, Ponting - 4 captains in 25 years. It's like a Chinese dynasty. There is the honor and ritual in receiving the baggy green cap. There is even honor bestowed on a player to lead the team in singing their team song Under The Southern Cross I Stand. This honor is respected and passed down with honor. Rod Marsh, Alan Border, David Boon, Ian Healy, Ponting, Langer and now Hussey have held this role. It is treated with reverential consideration and respect. You can't create this overnight. It is cultured.

  • Siba on October 6, 2009, 18:56 GMT

    Great one, Mr Bal. While reading this, one thing came to my mind. Men will be men (like Aussies) and boys will always be boys (like Team India). Never did Ricky complain about losing three key players like Clarke, Haddin and Bracken. MS Dhoni and his boys missed no opportunity to crib about Viru and Yuvraj. I hope they look at the Black Caps and learn a few things...

  • Eric on October 6, 2009, 17:59 GMT

    it was great tu see....Lee n siddle, then mills n bond produce one of the most fatal opening overs bowling we will see in one day international cricket...Australia played thru that tough period and to be honest thats what made the difference... i think Lee is bec n bec tu stae....test call up 4 him soon...he brings sumthing Ben.H cant...Tim Paine looks good, could actually play as a batsman even wen Haddin is thurr to keep wen the Pontings leav or others drop owt of form....i am a proteas fan but i was happy with the wae aussies conducted themselves....Watson n White showed the rest of the cricketing world how to play against quality bowling....McCullum did little to inspire his team, captained from the bec...he needs to improve as a leader...

  • Anil on October 6, 2009, 16:20 GMT

    Both, this article and the one by Osman Samiuddin, have done well in putting together the salient features of this tournament: and thus any argument that it was flawed is itself flawed. But, there is a lack of emphasis on NZ's fight in the final. Seldom can one remember when the final of a world event in cricket was so absorbing, where one-sidedness has usually been the trend. And, that to, with so many losses that NZ withstood. I consider NZ no less winner than the AUS here. It is common to be biased or prejudiced in our comments as followers of the game, but let the better sense prevail: there is no point in arguing that AUS did not deserve the trophy; that they won it is the best evidence that they deserved it. One cannot whine about theoretical might of SA or IND or anyone else; only achievements matter. And, Chokkashokka, AUS played against a full-strength IND in ODI series in India last time, and you know what happened. Optimism is good; but no need to vaunt.

  • Sanjeev on October 6, 2009, 14:43 GMT

    @vat69 what do you mean by isolated wins by india, are you in your senses, india has won agaiinst england, australia at perth and odi series, three series against sl ,test and odi wins against NZ, they have won in their own countries agree fielding and bowling was below par but india will rise...aus won because they are the best team in the word and well what was shahid afridi doing he has aspirations for pakistan captaincy and being senior player he should not have played that shot against new zealand..once again question will be raised agains him

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