It was a night when grace blended with power, when the beating of drums in the stands synchronised with the rhythm of strokeplay in the middle. It was a celebration of attacking batsmanship at SuperSport Park on Friday.
Shane Watson (136 not out, 132b, 10x4, 7x6) and skipper Ricky Ponting (111 not out, 115b, 12x4, 1x6) eased Australia into the final of the ICC Champions Trophy.
Chasing 258 against old foe England in the semifinal, the Aussies breezed home in the 42nd over with nine wickets remaining. The unbeaten 252-run partnership in 40.2 overs is the highest second-wicket association for Australia in ODIs. At the end of it all, even the Englishmen applauded.
Awesome with the pull stroke, Watson repeatedly sent the ball into the crowd. The English pacemen clearly ran out of ideas and options. During his sublime effort, the illustrious Ponting - all balance and timing - became the first Australian to go past the 12,000-run mark in ODIs.
An effortless cover-drive off paceman Tim Bresnan took Ponting to his 28th ODI hundred. Watson - adjudged Man of the Match - brought up his third ODI century with a fierce pull off English spearhead James Anderson. He raised his arms in triumph.
The Australian chase was paced well - the side was 63 for one after the first ten Power Play overs. At the half-way mark, the Aussies were 121 for one. Soon, the two batsmen put their foot on the accelerator.
Factors such as Power Play and field setting did not matter! Earlier, the Australian chase got underway after a brief hold up when a bunch of insects invaded the ground.
England tasted success at the start. Tim Paine pushed tentatively at a Graham Onions delivery - teasingly outside the off-stump - and 'keeper Steve Davies snaffled up the edge.
Ponting lived dangerously early on. He drove Onions uppishly and perilously close to the fielder at extra-cover. England did not help their cause either with some sloppy fielding.
Overthrows and misfields released early pressure on the Aussies. Ponting settled down to punish the erratic Anderson. Ponting's scorching square-drive, a whip off his pads and a flowing cover-drive in one Anderson over provided Australia momentum. Anderson was bowling on both sides of the wicket.
The Australian skipper's placement when he ventured into the pull stroke was immaculate. This was high-quality batting. Watson met the ball with a solidly straight willow when it was pitched up; bowler Onions saw the ball streak past him. And the well-built all-rounder was severe with his horizontal bat strokes when the bowlers erred in length.
Watson was clearly prepared to seize the initiative. Off-spinner Graeme Swann was slog-swept over the leaping fielder at the wide long-on fence. Crucially for Australia, Swann was not allowed to settle down. The surface too was not offering much to the off-spinner. Watson continued to dominate. A front-footed pull off Onions indicated how well he was picking the length and getting into the right position.
The introduction of part-time spinner Owais Shah reflected England's desperation. There was no respite for England from Ponting and Watson though. Bresnan discovered the perils of bowling short at Ponting. The ball disappeared into the stands past square-leg. Soon an imperious cover-drive flashed past the fielder at covers.
And Watson waited on his back-foot for the delicate dab shot off Onions. It was a night when the Englishmen chased leather. All-rounders Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan led the England fightback against Australia in the first ICC Champions Trophy semifinal, here, on Friday.
England finished at a competitive total of 257. Bresnan (80, 76b,11x4) was finally castled by a Brett Lee yorker even as he made room for yet another expansive stroke. The man from Yorkshire had smashed the previous delivery over mid-on for a spanking boundary.
Apart from some booming drives, his innings included some audacious upper-cuts and a few streaky edges. England, with the intrepid Graeme Swann lending Bresnan useful support, took the batting Power Play in the 46th over, but could not quite make use of the field restrictions.
Earlier, Australia made deep inroads reducing England to 101 for six before Wright and Bresnan added 107 crucial runs in 118 deliveries to restore balance. The duo took calculated risks to unsettle the Aussie attack. Wright, twice, slog-swept off-spinner Nathan Hauritz for sixes. Bresnan drove with panache through the off-side. He punched an erratic Mitchell Johnson through point and found the gaps regularly with power-packed drives.
Wright and Bresnan also cashed in as the Aussie pacemen fired deliveries down the leg-side. The association was broken when Wright (48, 68b, 2x4, 2x6) pursued a widish delivery from paceman Peter Siddle for 'keeper Tim Paine to hold his fifth catch of the innings.
The surface used for Friday's game turned out to be the liveliest one at this venue during the competition. There was nice bounce and carry for the pacemen as the ball went through to 'keeper Tim Paine.
The track was good for stroke-play as well since the bounce was consistent and the deviation was within manageable proportions. England brought in wicket-keeper batsman Steve Davies for Matthew Prior, who was still indisposed. Seam-bowling all-rounder Bresnan replaced the injured Stuart Broad and Graham Onions came in for left-armer Ryan Sidebottom.
England began confidently with skipper Andrew Strauss – he won the toss - cutting Lee past the ropes. When Siddle banged one in, he top-edged an attempted hook for the maximum.
Soon, the left-hander was walking back. Strauss' well-timed flick off Siddle was brilliantly held by a diving James Hopes at square-leg. The Aussie pacemen had England in deeper trouble. Owais Shah, attempting to work a short delivery on the leg-stump from Lee, was splendidly held by a diving Paine.
The in-form Paul Collingwood took the fight to the Australian bowlers, feeding on width and using his feet to alter length. Collingwood eased support paceman Hopes for a six over long-on.
And Johnson was cut and pulled by ruthlessly by Collingwood. England was 68 for two after the first block of ten Power Play overs. But the left-arm paceman finally nailed Collingwood (34, 30b,5x4, 1x6) with a well-directed short-pitched ball which the Englishman gloved while attempting a pull. 'Keeper Paine leapt high to pouch the catch.
England lost momentum after Collingwood's departure, inching to 86 for three, in 15 overs; the Aussies claimed the bowling Power Play in the 11th over. Opener Joe Denly played a couple of handsome strokes - he square-drove Siddle off the back-foot and leaned into a front-footed cover-drive off Hopes.
The well-organised Denly once again failed to consolidate on start. Siddle consumed the opener with a short-of-a-good length delivery that darted away. Denly (36, 44b, 5x4) played away from his body and Paine, flinging himself to his right, made no mistake.
The left-handed Eoin Morgan, struggling to find his timing, was put down by Hopes at the point fence off Shane Watson. The zestful Watson struck in the same over – the 19th of the innings.
He moved a delivery away from the left-handed Davies who dragged it on to the stumps, playing outside the line. Watson was bowling a telling line against the southpaws. Another delivery, zipping away from the left-hander fetched the Aussie a wicket. Morgan, trying to cut, edged to a busy Paine. England was 101 for six in the 21st over.
Then, Wright and Bresnan came together. And there was a change in the script.
Australia: S. Watson (not out) 136 (132b, 10x4, 7x6), T. Paine c Davies b Onions 4 (4b, 1x4), R. Ponting (not out) 111 (115b, 12x4,1x6), Extras (lb-2, w-5) 7; Total (for one wkt in 41.5 overs) 258.
Fall of wkt: 1-6 (Paine).
England bowling: Anderson 8.5-0-48-0, Onions 8-0-47-1, Bresnan 8-0-51-0, Collingwood 8-0-50-0, Swann 5-0-31-0, Wright 3-0-18-0, Shah 1-0-11-0.
England: A. Strauss c Hopes b Siddle 14 (10b, 1x4, 1x6), J. Denly c Paine b Siddle 36 (44b, 5x4), O. Shah c Paine b Lee 0 (2b), P. Collingwood c Paine b Johnson 34 (30b, 5x4, 1x6), E. Morgan c Paine bWatson 9 (27b), S. Davies b Watson 5 (4b), L. Wright c Paine b Siddle 48 (68b, 2x4, 2x6), T. Bresnan b Lee 80 (76b, 11x4), G. Swann (run out) 18 (15b, 2x4), J. Anderson (not out) 5 (9b), G. Onions (run out)1 (2b), Extras (nb-1, w-6) 7; Total (all out in 47.4 overs) 257.
Fal of wkts: 1-15 (Strass), 2-16 (Shah), 3-71 (Collingwood), 4-91 (Denly), 5-100 (Davies), 6-101 (Morgan), 7-208 (Wright), 8-245 (Swann), 9-251 (Bresnan).
Australia bowling: Lee 9-0-46-2, Siddle 10-0-55-3, Hopes 4-0-28-0, Johnson 10-1-61-1, Watson 8.4-1-35-2, Hauritz 6-0-32-0.