Centurion: The man whose career has been blighted by injuries took flight in the field of dreams. Shane Watson was the Australian hero as the side retained the ICC Champions Trophy with an emphatic six-wicket victory over New Zealand in the final at SuperSport Park here on Monday.
Watson, who made an unbeaten hundred against England in the semifinals, was not out on a majestic 105 (129b, 10x4, 4x6) as fireworks lit the night sky.
Australia, just seven away from the target of 201, took the Power Play in the 46th over. Watson — on 93 — promptly dismissed off-spinner Jeetan Patel for two successive sixes beyond the mid-wicket fence to celebrate the Australian triumph and his fourth ODI century. This was clean, effortless hitting.
Watson was named Man-of-the-Match, while Australian skipper Ricky Ponting was adjudged Player-of-the-Tournament.
The chance for New Zealand appeared and disappeared in a hurry. Australia was 41 for two and under immense pressure when Cameron White top-edged an attempted pull off seamer Ian Butler.
The man with the big gloves, Brendon McCullum, began a hectic pursuit to short fine-leg to get under the high ball only to eventually make a mess of the offering. The Kiwi supporters in the stands — much of the goodly crowd rooted for the underdog — cried out in anguish.
Watson and White (62, 102b, 7x4) gradually took the game away from New Zealand. The 128-run partnership for the third wicket off 195 balls settled the issue. The Kiwis desperately missed injured skipper Daniel Vettori.
The impressive Kyle Mills provided New Zealand a glimmer of hope — White played on as he shouldered arms to the paceman and Michael Hussey sliced into point’s hands — but the game was probably beyond the Kiwis by this stage.
Watson and James Hopes (22 not out) guided the Aussies home with some sparkling strokeplay.
Given that he has a rather two-eyed stance, the pull is a very natural stroke for Watson. He gets into position quickly and goes through with the stroke with enormous confidence. Butler banged one short and saw the ball land in the hill beyond the midwicket fence.
While he was outstanding with the horizontal bat strokes, Watson also batted with an impressively straight bat when the length demanded so. A straight-drive off Butler streaked past the bowler.
Watson’s batting was not about power alone. He also used the depth of the crease capably by rocking back and playing with delicate hands to the third man area.
When the asking rate climbed, Watson upped the tempo. Patel was not allowed to settle down as the Australian opener slog-swept the off-spinner for a six.
Soon, Shane Bond was cover-driven and left-arm paceman James Franklin was whipped from the off-stump. Watson was changing gears.
Promoted in the order — Hussey was held back by the Aussie think-tank while Callum Ferguson twisted his ankle while fielding — White came up with a crucial effort.
When the ball was moving around, he covered his off-stump and got a big stride in. He also cashed in on the width provided by the Kiwi bowlers and produced a few scintillating drives through the off-side.
Earlier, it was all New Zealand. And Bond was running hot. Psychologically, Bond means much to the Kiwis. His presence lifts the attack and gives it the cutting edge.
Bond charged in, his mind and body in harmony. The paceman’s load-up and release blended into one.
The Kiwi paceman was generating serious pace. He was also operating to a lovely off-stump line, pitching the ball up and taking it away from the right-hander.
Bond struck with his second delivery. A fuller length ball moved away late from Tim Paine.
The wicketkeeper batsman, drawn into a drive, edged for Ross Taylor to hold a low, diving catch at slip.
Given that they were defending just 200, the Kiwis needed to strike early. Bond provided his team a perfect start.
If Bond was moving the ball away, the slippery Mills got it to dart back from off-stump. Ponting, caught at the crease, was trapped in front. This was a huge wicket.
The Aussies were six for two in the third over and the Kiwis were full of beans.
Bond was relentless from one end. And Mills, a skiddy bowler with a quick-arm action, gave little away from the other.
White edged Bond perilously close to a sprawling second slip. Watson played and missed. This was indeed a testing period for the Australians. Between the seventh and 11th overs, Watson and White managed just one run.
White put the innings on course again with a fierce square cut when Butler erred in line. Then came McCullum’s miss. There were no comebacks for the Kiwis.