June 10, 2009

It was a very predictable Champions Trophy final at Centurion. Australia had already started gaining the momentum in England and they peaked at the right time in South Africa. In my last column, I had stressed the advantage of being in ‘real’ match fitness and Australia proved just that against New Zealand. The intensity, the focus and finally the ease with which they paced their innings against the fighting Kiwis were lessons for all.

If the result wasn’t a surprise, what fascinated me is Australia’s five ICC titles in-a-row. Isn’t this team at a rebuilding stage? Isn’t this the same side that has lost greats like Hayden, McGrath, Warne, Langer et al in recent times? Isn’t this the same outfit that was missing its inspirational vice-captain Michael Clarke in the final rounds?

The question might be complex but the answer is very simple. Even without the big guns, the Aussie self-belief has been palpable. Apart from proving that ICC rankings don’t mean anything, it is the manner in which younger players have put their hands up and made them counted is truly amazing. In folks like Shane Watson, Cameron White, Mitchell Johnson and Callum Ferguson, Australia have definitely found the core of their team for the future.

No system is complete without a leader. And can you have a better man than Ricky Ponting? Pragmatic, intensity often bordering on arrogance and thoroughly skilful, Ponting typifies the quintessential captain, who leads from the front. Ponting’s 288 runs in the tournament were decisive and certainly the cornerstone of Australia’s Champions Trophy campaign. His calming influence and demeanour egg on his teammates to perform beyond their limits.

The beauty of a side not only lies in its competence but on its personnel and the overall value they add. If Australian batting has profited from men like Ponting and Mike Hussey, the bowling has got a great fillip from Brett Lee. The veteran tearaway has bowled with renewed vigour, looked physically stronger and his mental stamina has been awesome. He should be a lesson for the world’s fast bowlers. His recovery from injury and then his personal problems has been stunning. When a 32-year-old man charges in and consistently hurls the cherry at over 145 kmph, it is testimony to a man’s hunger for excellence. Hats off, Binga!

Australian cricket is providing one more hero to world cricket. It’s Shane Watson. An all-rounder who applies himself as an opener, goes on to crack back-to-back tons in pressure games, must have some class and caliber. But that is not what makes Watson special. It is the manner in which he built partnerships to chase down a total was critical. It underlines the beauty of 50-overs cricket, planning and finally, execution.

Well done, Team Australia.

Courtesy: www.espnstar.com

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