And so the tournament they said no one cared about is nearing conclusion, and the best team in the world is up against a team playing the best cricket it has in a long time. Australia, still very much the favourites, and by far the most consistent team about - their sweep of the ICC awards was indicative of that - have a resurgent West Indian team and a Brabourne Stadium pitch to worry about before the match that could hand them the one big trophy that has so far eluded them. The formbook has been of little use in this tournament but, equally, West Indies have only ever lost when they have had nothing to play for. Here it's all or nothing and it's a fair bet neither Ricky Ponting nor Brian Lara now think, if they ever did so, that this was just another one-day tournament staged too close to the World Cup.
'The best team in the world [Australia] is up against a team [West Indies] playing the best cricket it has in a long time'
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One bad pitch, in the game between New Zealand and South Africa, where the top came off in the second half really set the cat among the pigeons, raising somewhat disproportionate concerns about the pitches that would be used in the tournament. So much so that the ICC had to fly in Andy Atkinson, their pitch expert, to assist with the preparation of the pitch for the final.
With a gap of almost a fortnight between the last match played in Mumbai and Sunday's final, Atkinson and the crew at the CCI have had plenty of time to work on the surface. Naturally, though, there has been concern about what sort of strip awaits the teams for the big game. "The pitch was very dusty and dry earlier on. Now we've allowed it to take in plenty of moisture and dry out naturally," said Atkinson on match eve. "We're using the strip that has the most even growth of grass on it, and the aim is that it should hold together for the duration."
Ponting, though, didn't seem too worried about the pitch. "I've not looked too closely because the covers been on pretty much all the time," he said. "It wasn't the best wicket to bat on for the first couple of games but they've had a chance to put a lot of work into it. Looks nice and hard." Lara, who was rushed in for a press conference upon arrival at the ground, only said, "Clive [Lloyd] spoke to us and he thought 40 years ago the pitch didn't play too differently. So I'm not sure how much of a difference the last fortnight would have made. I have to take a closer look at it."
With the pitches being such a dominant factor - and, occasionally, the dew - teams have played different players on different occasions, and the big question is whether Australia will go with their best bowlers - the pacemen - or take the conditions into account and make place for Brad Hogg. "I think the conditions are more suited to spin than anywhere else, so Hogg and Dan Cullen may come into the picture," said Ponting.
The other aspect that has raised some questions is Shane Watson opening the innings; he has had a few low scores, getting out pulling early on but has contributed with the ball consistently. "The pull shot is fairly instinctive and I'm a fan of it," Ponting said. "He's been undone because of the variable bounce in the pitches. It's important to pick up the bounce in the wicket before going for the shot." Simon Katich may be the better player of spin, but for the moment it looks like Watson will keep his slot.
West Indies, as it invariably is with teams that are winning and in high spirits, are a settled side. With no specialist spinner in the squad, and Chris Gayle, far and away the man of the tournament so far with three centuries and 437 runs, and Marlon Samuels, doing the slow bowling work, the only thing to think about is the experience of Corey Collymore. Wavell Hinds and Fidel Edwards have barely done enough to displace others who have contributed at one stage or the other. So, it will come as no surprise if Hinds and Edwards, and most likely Collymore, miss out.
The big stage
Much has been made of Australia having never won the Champions Trophy in the past, but Australia have won so much else that it's not something Ponting and his men will worry about. If anything, Ponting said it was crucial for his team to be relaxed going into the big game. "I think it's important to be as low key as possible before entering a big final," he said. "It's important not to hype it up too much. I remember the World Cup final last time and we know the mindset to take into these games. Ponting also agreed that the West Indies might have come into the tournament with a tag of being an unpredictable team, but they had been rather consistent in the tournament. "I don't think they've been unpredictable in this series, probably were before that," he said "Through this series, there players are becoming more consistent, lot more even contribution from their players."
When asked if he thought the final was a time for Lara to impose himself on the game, and the tournament - as he has barely had a go at bat so far - he once again spoke of team over individual. "The team has grown and the team needs to impose itself and take control of the game, not any one person," he said. "Everyone knows their responsibilities." And Ponting too denied that West Indies were a one-man team, or that opposition would be thinking more about Lara than anyone else, thereby giving others a chance to perform. "I don't think the West Indies are a one-man team anymore," he said. "Gayle's been the star of the tournament. Bradshaw and Taylor have been very good. First time we played them, Morton came out and played very well. We need to play well to beat them."
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 Runako Morton, 7 Dwayne Smith, 8 Marlon Samuels, 9 Carlton Baugh (wk), 10 Ian Bradshaw, 11 Jerome Taylor.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Damien Martyn, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Michael Clarke, 8 Brad Hogg, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Glenn McGrath.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo