Indomitable Lee douses T&T's dream
When Brett Lee came to the crease in the 12th over, the scoreboard showed 83 for 6. Anything less than 150 was unlikely to test a power-packed Trinidad & Tobago line-up. But just how were New South Wales going to get that far?
The answer lay with the baggy green, which jealous cynics suggest comes free with the Blues cap. How many times have you seen Australia dig themselves out of a hole, and win matches that they ought to have lost? Remember Andrew Symonds against Pakistan at the Wanderers in 2003? Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel against England at the same World Cup? Where other fancied teams fold like cheap napkins, these blokes revel in the odds being stacked against them. Australia may be a more genteel place now, but the Ned Kelly-bushranger spirit that Peter Carey wrote about so eloquently is alive and well.
Just a day ago, the Cape Cobras shelled catches and missed run-out chances galore in imitation of their national side in crunch games. NSW, by contrast, were perfect, taking stupendous catches - Lee and Moises Henriques - and scampering around to cut off what looked to be certain boundaries. Thanks to Lee and Steven Smith, who played his part with 33 and 2 for 32, they had a score to defend, and with the bowlers giving little away, dreams of Caribbean glory quickly faded.
Lee was colossal. Injuries may have reduced him to bit-part status in the Ashes but when he's fit and bowling with such pace and accuracy, there's no better limited-overs bowler. Even in a 50-over competition, his economy-rate of 3.76 would have been stupendous. The eight wickets at 9.87 were almost a bonus. Not content with making a mess of William Perkins' stumps, he took a sharp reflex catch to send back Lendl Simmons, and it was the chance he held at long-on as Kieron Pollard took to Nathan Hauritz that signalled the end of T&T's wonderful adventure.
But it was with the bat that his experience and maturity really told. With five overs left, NSW had just 103 on the board. Simmons had done a sterling job for his captain in the Umar Gul role right through the tournament, but when he came back for a second over, Lee went on the rampage. A six over square leg was followed by one over long-on, and then he stepped back and lashed one through cover.
Navin Stewart was then smacked over long-on for six, and though Smith fell to the reverse sweep, Lee clouted Sherwin Ganga over midwicket for another six. Within three overs, the run-kitty had swelled by 38. And in an eventful final over that saw Hauritz run out after Lee ducked under a bouncer from Ravi Rampaul, he thumped another six over long-on. By the time he carved the final ball into the hands of deep backward point to end the innings, T&T needed eight an over. In a final, that was never going to be easy.
"He [Lee] showed his true colours as an international today," said Daren Ganga later. "He came in with the team in a spot of bother and he applied himself. Then, with the new ball, he took crucial wickets. He was the outstanding performer, but they have a really good team spirit. It's hard when you lose wickets early, especially in a final. It puts the remaining batsmen under pressure, and we didn't handle it well tonight."
Lee tried to deflect attention from his own exploits, complimenting the bench strength and the young players who had stepped up to the mark so nervelessly. "For the youth in our side ... what this is going to do for their confidence," he said. "Any time you score runs while batting first, it boosts your confidence. They're a good side, but also very unpredictable. With runs on the board, we could go for the jugular."
With Smith having made runs, Simon Katich felt that he'd have the confidence to handle the new ball as well. When Adrian Barath drove and cut fours, and then lofted one over long-on for six, it appeared that the gamble might have failed, but a thin under-edge later, T&T were two down.
"We made mistakes tactically in that first game against Trinidad," said Katich. "We learnt from those. There's so much belief in the squad. Even when we were down and out, no one gave up." Even when Pollard tried to ensure that lightning would strike twice, New South Wales held their nerve, and their catches. "That was the gutsiest ball we've ever seen," said Katich, of the one that Hauritz tossed up to Pollard. "To bowl that right after being hit some 150m into the stands for six..."
Two years ago, when he led the side to Pura Cup glory, Katich called it one of the proudest moments of his career. "This has taken it to another level," he said. "To see the young guys flourish alongside experienced players like Brett, Stuey Clark and myself has been really rewarding."
As he walked away from the press conference, Lee, who ended it with a shukriya [thank you] was heard joking that he needed plenty of thanda paani [cold water]. This after he'd already poured a gallon of it on T&T's Cinderella dream.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo