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By Suresh Menon
So this Australian team could be beaten after all. There is something comforting about sporting competition when the expected happens, when a Federer wins at Wimbledon , when a Woods takes another classic. Yet it thrives on the unexpected, and while England ’s victory was not entirely unexpected, Australia ’s defeat somehow was. Sport survives on such paradoxes.
Ironically, it was the batting that let Australia down. To lose three wickets in the first three overs is a setback to test the best. Then there was the Michael Clarke problem. He came in at number three and struggled. At the end of the match he was to say,“There is no doubt the selectors will need to have a look at my performances. I am sure the selectors will have a look and if I'm not the right person for the No. 3 position and the captaincy of this team they'll make that decision.”
How’s that for searing honesty? Especially when you consider that this was Clarke’s first loss as skipper in 15 matches! No one is calling for his head; no one thinks he is solely responsible for Australia ’s defeat. Yet he fears the axe. Clarke made just 92 runs at 15.33 in the tournament but he led well enough to ensure Australia were the favourites going into the final.
As the early Australian wickets fell, everybody remembered that Mike Hussey was yet to come in. How clever of his team to have slotted him in at number seven, and no matter if the batsman in that position averaged only 7.5 deliveries per match. But after that Pakistan effort which gave Hussey all of 24 deliveries in which to make 60, the scales righted themselves. This time he had only ten deliveries to play around with, and England bowled as if the rest of the match would be a mere formality.
In the end, it turned out to be a battle between the captains. Paul Collingwood had come so well prepared that you could see him mentally ticking off his moves one by one as he tried them. Plans were in place, and so were the back up plans. When runs were leaking, he turned to Luke Wright to staunch the flow. Wright dismissed the dangerous Cameron White while giving away just five runs in his first over.
But that was all he got to bowl. Job done, he had to make way for England to get back on track again and return to Plan A. There is a quiet confidence about Collingwood and a certainty about his moves that communicate themselves to the team. It was fitting that he should have been batting at the end.
The South Africans Craig Keiswetter and Kevin Pietersen were the stars of the final. It was not a great match – Australia made too few to really test England who were aware that they would be home and dry unless they did something extraordinarily silly. There were attempts to bowl short-pitched deliveries to throw the batsmen off stride, but Pietersen in particular looked so comfortable drawing back and playing on either side of the wicket that the tactic was abandoned.
Neither batsman made the mistake the Indians did, of believing that every ball had to be hit, especially the short ones. The English batsmen handled it more gently, and without the desperation that ruined India . They deserved to win for their calm and professional approach.
Now England must consider themselves contenders for the 50-over World Cup in February next year. And that has been Collingwood’s greatest prize – his team will have to be taken seriously in the limited overs game.