The sixth edition of the Champions Trophy was almost a non-starter. Dogged by terror, threats of pull out and behind the scenes parleys where focus was exclusively on the shadow of terrorism and `snakes in Pakistan’s backyard’, the event seemed doomed.
Pakistan were originally scheduled as hosts and the tournament was to be held in September 2008. However, many countries refused to tour Pakistan. Earlier New Zealand had cut short a visit owing to a bomb blast outside the team hotel while Australia had called off their tour to the country.
A couple of days after a terrified South African board indicated that they would not tour Pakistan where a-bomb-a-day seemed to be going off in every major city, the ICC, instead of taking a firm decision, merely opted to postpone the tournament to October 2009. Strangely, they insisted that the event would be held in Pakistan, probably believing that terrorism was a passing phase and would end within one cricket season!
However, within weeks of this decision, Pakistan-backed terrorists launched a dastardly attack on Mumbai on 26 November, 2008. India promptly pulled out of a bi-lateral tour of Pakistan, only to be substituted with Sri Lanka. But Pakistan's continued tryst with disaster did not end there. In March 2009, the Sri Lankan team en route to the cricket stadium in Lahore, was waylaid by terrorists and several Sri Lankan cricketers survived bullet injuries and escaped with their lives. The series was instantly abandoned and the team was immediately flown back home.
This was the last straw. ICC finally saw sense and moved the Champions Trophy out of the South Asian nation riddled with extremism. Initially they wanted to shift it to Sri Lanka, but after ascertaining the prevailing weather pattern in that country, decided to host it in South Africa instead.
The tournament on the pacy, bouncy tracks of South Africa showcased Australian Shane Watson as the best all-rounder in world cricket. His stirring exploits for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) had helped him get back in Australian selectors' favour and how well he repaid their faith!
The aggressive opening batsman slammed centuries in the semifinal (136 not out in 132 balls; 7x6, 10x4 vs England) and final (105 not out,129b, 4x6, 10x4 vs New Zealand) and was unanimously hailed as the 'Man of the Tournament'.
He had started slowly, with ducks against West Indies and India (match abandoned due to rain) but impressive fast bowling against West Indies and Pakistan kept him in the mix. His batting exploded in the semi-finals and final and along with his incisive bowling tipped the balance repeatedly in the champions’ favour.
India were hit by plenty of bad luck and poor cricket. They lost the opening match to Pakistan. Their opponents had already warmed up to the tournament with an easy win over West Indies and thus came into the India match in a relaxed state of mind.
Shoaib Malik smashed a calculated 126-ball knock of 128 and with Mohammed Yousuf (87) rallying around him, took the team to an impregnable total. In turn only Rahul Dravid (76 off 103 balls) and Gautam Gambhir (57 off 46 balls) batted effectively. Both were run out and India were dismissed in the 45th over to lose by 54 runs.
Unfortunately for India their next match was abandoned owing to rains which cut short Australia’s innings. India walloped West Indies in their inconsequential final group match to bow out of the tournament.
The Australians, on the other hand, went from strength to strength. They beat Pakistan in a thrilling last ball finish with tail-enders Mitchell Johnson (9), Brett Lee (12 not out) and Nathan Haurtiz (9 not out) stubbornly piecing together the final 29 runs in nine overs to take the side across the line.
While the two teams made the semi-final from this group, England and New Zealand with two wins apiece made the grade from the other group. Hosts South Africa and Sri Lanka had just one win each and bowed out.
Watson’s pyrotechnics and skipper Ricky Ponting’s unbeaten 111 made light of England's total of 257 in the first semi-final, which the Australians surpassed with nine wickets and a whopping 8.1 overs to spare.
In the other semi-final New Zealand were too good for Pakistan. The latter's batting did not stand up well. Their bowling almost came good when they had the Black Caps in trouble at 128/4. But Grant Elliot (75 not out) and skipper Daniel Vettori (41) added 104 for the fifth wicket to thwart them. New Zealand won by five wickets.
The stage was thus set for a grand finale. But New Zealand, as has happened so often in their cricketing history, collapsed against their neighbouring cricket giant.
A total of 200 was disappointing and was never going to stop the Australians. Kyle Mills and Shane Bond bowled probingly and picked up top order wickets. But Watson played himself in and then took a toll of the other bowlers. New Zealand were hampered by the absence of Vettori, who had pulled out of the match after suffering a hamstring injury. Cameron White (62) and Watson effected a 128-run third wicket stand to snuff out the Kiwis.
Australia thus defended their title, the first and only team to do so. Apart from them, ICC too heaved a huge sigh of relief at the successful conclusion of one of the most contentious editions of Champions Trophy.
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Updated Date: May 29, 2017 14:36:01 IST