All white on the night for Australia
Posted in ICC Champions Trophy 2009
So the men in white coats walked off into the night carrying the Champions Trophy.
Clad in their spanking new blazers, the Australians toasted their six-wicket win over New Zealand at Centurion with an awkwardness normally associated with a teenager who has been forced to wear Grandma’s knitted cardigan.
The stylishness of the outfits may be open to debate, but there can be no doubt Australia were the better side in the final - and you will be hard pressed to find many observers willing to argue that they were not the best team throughout the competition.
In terms of consistency, they could not be challenged. True, there was a minor wobble against West Indies and a late collapse en route to a last-ball victory over Pakistan in their final group game.
Yet from the semi-finals onwards, the path to Australia glory was noticeably smooth. England were dispatched with the minimum of fuss last Friday, before New Zealand found themselves on the receiving end of another ruthlessly efficient display yesterday.
The common denominator in those victories was Shane Watson, whose twin unbeaten centuries formed the basis of Australia’s successful pursuit on both occasions.
He brought the curtain down on an absorbing tournament in emphatic fashion, hoisting Jeetan Patel on to the grass banking twice in a row to go to three figures and wrap up a six-wicket win under the floodlights at SuperSport Park.
Those strokes were the exception rather than the norm on an evening when batsmen were made to work particularly hard for their runs, in keeping with a theme running through the tournament.
I was among those expecting an avalanche of runs in South Africa; past results at Centurion and the Wanderers, the effect of thinner air at altitude, and the growing imbalance of bat over ball in international cricket pointed to a competition in which bowlers would struggle.
But a combination of used wickets and exceptional bowling, especially from the seam bowlers, meant there were only three matches in which 300 runs were scored in an innings.
Eight of the 14 completed matches featured first-innings totals below 250 and, if you discount the efforts of a second-string West Indies side, New Zealand’s 200 for nine in the final was the second lowest in the tournament.
Not that it translated into a lack of entertainment. Far from it. The new-ball spell of Kyle Mills and Shane Bond yesterday was one of the most pulsating passages of play we have seen in the last two weeks, and how refreshing it was to see batsman’s techniques tested more than the strength of the perimeter advertising boards.
Last night also showed that, for all the talk of switch-hits, reverse sweeps and change-ups, there is a still a place - and a prominent place at that - for orthodox shots in one-day cricket.
Having survived a rigorous examination from Mills and Bond, Watson demonstrated his equable temperament and sound judgement of a run-chase for the second time in four days with a superbly paced innings which carried Australia home with 28 balls to spare.
It capped a tournament which lived up its billing as “short and sweet” (the words of the ICC), with the format ensuring that something rested on the outcome of all but one of the matches.
One of the few negative aspects was the familiar sight of sparsely populated stands, although filling two grounds in such close proximity 15 times in 14 days is a tough ask in anybody’s book.
As for those jackets, let's just say Roger Federer has a lot to answer for. One can only hope that the next time Watson comes out to bat, it isn’t in pads engraved with his initials.