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1. Australia 2. West Indies 3= New Zealand and South Africa
The Champions Trophy is the unwanted stepchild of international cricket, and this one - just five months before the World Cup proper - was as unloved as the others. But despite various dramas on and off the field, Australia's eventual capture of the one piece of silverware that had previously eluded them gave the competition a legitimacy its previous editions had lacked.
England's Ashes tour was only a week away by the time Australia won the final, and a combination of steep ticket-pricing and the Diwali holidays had kept many Indian fans away, but there was enough engrossing cricket played to suggest that this might be remembered as a better viewing experience than the unwieldy 16-team World Cup scheduled for 2007. Australia had lost in the semi-finals twice before, but this time nothing was left to chance. They had tuned up in Malaysia, beating India and West Indies, and arrived in India with their first-choice combination in fine fettle. West Indies gave them notice on a tricky Mumbai pitch that their 2004 Champions Trophy victory at The Oval was no fluke, but then the Aussies trounced England, collecting some psychological pre-Ashes points. That set them up nicely for a winner-takes-all encounter with India. Once again, Australia's greater nous and composure on the big occasion prevailed, leaving a stunned subcontinent with no representation in the semi-finals.
The greatest positives for Australia came in the shape of two young men who seized their opportunities. Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson roughed England up at Jaipur, and sustained their efforts right through to the final. Johnson missed out there, as Brad Hogg was recalled to provide some spin, but Watson delivered a classy all-round performance to take the match award. Although Glenn McGrath eased himself back into decent form with some telling new-ball spells, the best bowler on view was Nathan Bracken, who swung the ball sharply in favourable conditions to trigger West Indies' slide in the final. Australia's comfortable win also gave them revenge after Jerome Taylor's loose-limbed pace had brought him a decisive hat-trick in the earlier game.
Though they faltered at the finish, West Indies played some exhilarating cricket at times, with Chris Gayle slamming three centuries. The one against South Africa was especially eye-catching, with power-packed strokes all around the wicket making a competitive total look meagre. The mercurial Runako Morton also came good, while Brian Lara produced one of his golden innings against Australia; the lode is not yet exhausted.
The Asian teams' failure was largely the result of some very un-Asian pitches, which gave bounce and lateral movement that the pace bowlers relished. The monsoons had only just ended, and most of the groundsmen had not had a chance to prepare pitches that would settle in time for the big occasion. The one that New Zealand and South Africa played on in Mumbai was a real shocker, with the top coming off at the start of the second innings. It was an unhappy return for international cricket at the Brabourne Stadium, which was chosen ahead of the nearby Wankhede Stadium as it could offer the "clean" (no existing advertisements) arena demanded by the ICC. The pitch problems jolted Raj Singh Dungarpur, the chairman of the Cricket Club of India which owns the ground, so much that he offered to move the final to another venue. The organisers were having none of that, though, and Andy Atkinson, the ICC's pitches consultant, was drafted in: he used polyvinyl acetate, an industrial adhesive, to bind the pitch together.
But even the glue could not make the subcontinental teams stick in the competition. Pakistan arrived in disarray, with Inzamam-ul-Haq still serving out his ban for the Oval Test forfeit. Younis Khan had theatrically resigned the captaincy (Mohammad Yousuf took over for about 24 hours), and was then reappointed after a Pakistan Cricket Board reshuffle. Their plight worsened on the eve of their first match, when the new-ball pair Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were sent home after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug nandrolone in pre-tournament drug tests. That sidelined both players - but controversially the bans were later overturned on appeal. Meanwhile, the team closed ranks and, after a thrilling match, just managed to overhaul a challenging Sri Lankan total.
Then came the collapse. Pakistan proceeded to Mohali, where, in front of many supporters from across the border, they were routed by both New Zealand and South Africa. Doughty batting from Stephen Fleming and Scott Styris was decisive in the first game, and Pakistan then had no answer to a blistering spell from Makhaya Ntini, which ended their semi-final hopes. They headed home, with no one to blame but themselves: after reducing South Africa to 42 for five, they allowed Mark Boucher and Justin Kemp to scrap their way to a winning score.
When the tournament was allocated to India, the ICC had expected huge crowds and some marquee match-ups, but sponsorship clashes involving the main Test centres in India meant that it was the lesser venues - Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mohali and the spruced-up Brabourne Stadium - which hosted the games. And though there were some healthy crowds at Jaipur and Mohali, the attendance for several of the matches that did not involve India was desperately disappointing. The Champions Trophy matches at Edgbaston, 2004, and Jaipur this time have been the only occasions in memory where hardly anyone has wanted to watch England v Australia. But as Sanjay Manjrekar, the former Test batsman, pointed out, Indians are not necessarily passionate about cricket, they're passionate about Indian cricket. It did not help that India never upped their game for the occasion. They made a meal of a tiny English total in their opening match, and then went home for a week as Diwali festivities lit up the country. But even though one of the tournament sponsors launched a TV campaign - Sourav Ganguly, the former captain, was roped in to urge the fans to get behind the team - they were no match for either West Indies or Australia. The 11-day gap between games didn't help; nor did the predatory media, hounding captain Rahul Dravid at every turn.
Sri Lanka, who had routed England 5-0 a few months earlier, had been among the ante-post favourites, even though - like West Indies, the holders - they were forced to qualify for the tournament proper (the top six nations in the ICC one-day rankings got in as of right, and the other four Test teams played off for the last two places). But they were also caught out by South Africa on a seam-friendly track. Victory was especially sweet for the South Africans, who had abandoned their Sri Lankan tour just two months previously, and been called chicken for their trouble. Sri Lanka's lone victory in the league phase came against New Zealand, who nonetheless reached the semi-finals.
Despite not having played for months, the New Zealanders again punched above their weight in a big event. Fleming led the way with some superb batting at the top of the order. His lone-hand effort set up victory over South Africa, then his partnership with Styris saw off Pakistan. But Australia had far too much firepower in the semi-final and, despite a brave rearguard action from Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram, New Zealand were never going to recover from an initial McGrath burst that reduced them to 35 for six.
The Mohali pitch was the best on view, with pace and bounce for the quicker bowlers and enough scoring opportunities for batsmen with the technique to play the moving ball. Andrew Symonds, a peripheral performer until then, showed his value with a rapid half-century in the semi as Australia reached their first Champions Trophy final with something to spare. West Indies slipped up once in the league phase, losing to England after they had already qualified, but they were too good for South Africa in the semi-final. Gayle's blazing hundred was the highlight, but they were equally indebted to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and the bowlers, who never allowed the South Africans to get away. Taylor bowled with pace and control throughout the tournament, while Ian Bradshaw, one of the heroes of that Oval heist two years earlier, was metronomic and penetrative in every spell, bowling at a steady medium-pace.
South Africa's bowlers, such a fearsome proposition against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, never found their radar against West Indies, with Gayle belting them around the park almost from the start. They departed with a few whinges about the distance of the team hotel from the venue - it didn't seem to affect the West Indians, who also stayed there - but there was no disguising that South Africa had been comfortably outplayed when it mattered. They may have won the inaugural edition of this tournament, in Bangladesh in 1998, but they have searched unavailingly for the top rung, never quite possessing the quality to get there.
For a change, the meaningless matches had been disposed of before most of the teams even arrived. West Indies' dismal performances since winning the Champions Trophy in 2004 had condemned them and Sri Lanka to prequalify for this one. The preliminaries were little more than a formality, and although Farveez Maharoof skittled West Indies for just 80 to seal the top qualifying position, there was never any danger of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe eclipsing the established powers.
Throughout the tournament, there was sniping between the Indian board and the ICC, whose contentious Members Participation Agreement (the guidelines for major ICC tournaments such as this one and the World Cup) evoked strong responses on both sides. The TV rights for ICC events were up for renegotiation, and the Indian board expressed an interest in acquiring them, with the ambitious Lalit Modi, one of its vice-presidents, expounding his ideas at length. At one stage, he even accused the council of behaving like the East India Company, which drew a sharp response from Malcolm Speed, the chief executive, who pointed out, none too gently, that Modi had never attended an ICC meeting.
There was embarrassment, too, over the Indian board's decision to invite Mohammad Azharuddin, banned for his alleged involvement in match-fixing, to the inauguration of its new offices in Mumbai on the eve of the final; the board said it was an internal matter. At one stage, there was a real danger that no board official would attend the ICC's official awards night but, in the end, egos were set aside. The Indian board decided not to bid for the global telecast rights; Azharuddin was fêted, even as Speed and ICC president Percy Sonn looked on, and everyone went home to prepare for the final. With the cheapest ticket in the house costing more than 700 rupees (around £8), and with India long gone, there were plenty of empty seats at the Brabourne for the climax. But the few that were there were passionately behind the underdog. Like Brazil in football, West Indies have long been the neutral's favourite team and, when Gayle and Chanderpaul threatened to take McGrath and Brett Lee apart in a frenetic opening phase, the delighted crowd bayed for more. But an incisive spell by Bracken shut them up, and ripped the heart out of the West Indian batting. The fragile middle order folded again, and only persistent drizzle during the dinner break delayed Australia's inevitable march to victory.
Damien Martyn, who had batted so beautifully in the victories over England and India, once again played his part with a classy unbeaten 47, but it was Watson who ensured that the reserve day would not be needed as Australia's travelling support celebrated yet another triumph.
Throughout the tournament, Ricky Ponting had insisted that the result would have no bearing on the Ashes (although, after beating England, Martyn did let it slip that "we've been waiting more than a year for this"). Test cricket is a different game, but there was no doubt that Australia's successes in Malaysia gave them the perfect fillip ahead of the tussle for the trophy they craved above all else.
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