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

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