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, following up his unbeaten hundred against England in the semifinal, 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 tocelebrate the Australian triumph and his fourth ODI century. This was clean, effortless hitting.
Watson was named Man of the Match. And 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 under-dog – 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 in 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 the left-handed Michael Hussey sliced into point's hands – but the game was beyond the Kiwis by this stage.
Watson and James Hopes (22 not out) guided the Aussies home with some sparkling stroke-play. Given that he has a rather two-eyed stance, the pull is a very natural stroke for Watson. He gets into a 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 mid-wicket 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 tothe third man area.
When the asking rate climbed, Watson upped the tempo. Off-spinner Jeetan Patel was not allowed to settle down. The Aussie slog-swept the off-spinner for the maximum.
Soon, Shane Bond was cover-driven and left-arm paceman James Franklin whipped from the off-stump. Watson was changing gears.
Promoted in the order – Hussey was held back by the Aussie think-tank while Callum Fergusen 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. White also cashed in width 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, 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 wicket-keeper 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 quite the perfect start. If Bond was moving the ball away, the slippery Kyle Mills got it to dart back from off-stump.
Ricky Ponting, caught at the crease, was trapped in front. This was a huge scalp. The Aussies were six for two in the third over and the Kiwis were full of beans. This was a testing period for the Aussies. 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. But Australia survived.
However, the runs dried up. 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.
Sluggish New Zealand
A bunch of colourful aircraft roared over Super Sport Park in perfect harmony to greet the summit clash but the Kiwi innings never really took off.
New Zealand, dealt a severe blow ahead of the ICC Champions final when its inspirational captain missed out with a hamstring strain, struggled to cobble together a total of 200 for nine against an Australian attack that was both incisive and disciplined.
Stand-in skipper Brendon McCullum opted to bat but the Australians gave little away.
The Aussies hunted as a pack in the arena. Brett Lee's scorching yorkers were on mark. Peter Siddle operated to a telling off-stump line with pace, bounce and hostility. Left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson was tidy while off-spinner Nathan Hauritz brought about subtle variations in length and angles.
The Aussies were sharp on the field with Michael Hussey being the outstanding fielder. It was a good team effort by Ricky Ponting's men. Eventually tail-ender Jeetan Patel's unbeaten 16 enabled New Zealand to reach the 200- run-mark.
Along the way the Aussies had to endure a Kiwi fightback of sorts. The New Zealand innings was in a deep mess at 94 for five in the 27th over when James Franklin joined Niel Broom. The right-left pair took the score towards a measure of respectability.
Broom was fortunate against Lee's toe-crushers early on but settled down to play some fine shots. A cover-drive off Siddle screamed to the boundary.
The left-handed Franklin too was positive; he glided off-spinner Nathan Hauritz past the third man ropes.
Gradually, the two batsmen increased the tempo. Broom gave Shane Watson the charge to slash the paceman over point. Franklin flicked and straight-drove Siddle.
The Kiwis were 151 for five at the 40-over mark.
The promising association ended after a mix-up over a sharp single. Broon (37) played Watson to point, hesitated even as Franklin charged down, and was run-out at the non-striker's end.
Not much later, Lee ended Franklin's (33) stay with a fiery yorker delivered from round-the-wicket to the southpaw.
Earlier, the Aussies were on the ball from the button. And the ploy against McCullum was simple - deny him width.
Lee and Siddle carried out the plan with some precise fast bowling.
The increasingly frustrated McCullum - choked for runs - was kept scoreless for 13 deliveries.
He perished off the 14th - the delivery from Siddle was too close to McCullum's body for the cut shot. The edge was accepted gleefully by 'keeper Tim Paine.
With its most destructive batsman in the pavilion, the Kiwi run-rate slumped.
Lee and Siddle were impressive with the new ball. There was nice bounce and carry for the pacemen. Both bowlers generated speed without sacrificing control.
Aaron Redmond and Martin Guptill managed a few firm strokes against the run of play. Guptil drove a fuller ball from Lee past mid-off.
Redmond lofted Siddle over covers.
Still the score was only 22 for one after the conclusion of 10 Power Play overs.
Gradually, the Kiwis upped the tempo. Redmond slashed support paceman Shane Watson to the cover-point fence and Guptill essayed a couple of handsome off-drives off Johnson.
Redmond fell to a smart piece of bowling from Hauritz in the 19th over - the score was 66.
Hautitz has a little pause in his action - he delivers the ball late - and he spotted Redmond giving him the charge. The offie slipped one down wide and the alert Paine whipped off the bails.
The Kiwis lost ground quickly. Guptill (40) was batting with poise and timing when he misjudged the length of a Hauritz delivery around his off-stump to pop up a return catch.
Ross Taylor carried a lot of Kiwi hopes with him. The talented batsman had had a quiet tournament. Could he fire in the final?
Taylor disappointed again, slicing Johnson for Michael Hussey to pluck a fine, acrobatic catch square off the wicket.
The in-form Grant Elliott followed Taylor soon. Lee's inswinging yorker crashed into his pads and the umpire's finger was up. The Kiwis were coming apart rapidly in a Cup final.
Broom and Franklin strung together a partnership under pressure. However, the Aussies struck back again.