Ponting, Watson bat Australia into final

CENTURIAN: Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson struck undefeated centuries as title holders Australia crushed England by nine wickets to reach the Champions Trophy final.

Watson, recovering from a nightmare start to the tournament that saw him out twice for a duck, finished on 136 and skipper Ponting fired 111 in a batting masterclass that soared to 258-1 off 41.5 overs. Watson slammed 10 fours and seven sixes and also took two wickets to capture the man-of-the-match award while the ever dependable Ponting weighed in with 12 fours and one six in a record Australian ODI partnership.

For Ponting there was also the personal satisfaction of becoming only the third batsman after Sachin Tendulkar of India and Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka to pass the 12,000 ODI run mark. “We were pretty good and very good with the bat. I was confident that we could chase the total and we stood up and got the job done,” said Ponting.

England captain Andrew Strauss blamed his top-order batsmen for another failure to win a tournament ranked second only to the World Cup in one-day importance. “Our batsmen were to blame on a wicket where we should have been looking at scoring at least 300 runs. We tried to be postive but, unfortunately, the shots did not come off.”

England recovered from a disastrous start to reach 257 in 47.4 overs thanks largely to 80 from unlikely hero Tim Bresnan at SuperSport Park after Strauss won the toss on a clear, warm afternoon. But after dismissing opener Tim Paine with just six runs on the board, the England bowlers suffered as Ponting and Watson cracked the ball to every area of the ground.

It was a sizzling show by Australia, who topped Group A including Pakistan, India and the West Indies while rarely moving into overdrive in a tournament that brought to best eight nations to South Africa. And England must hope they do not have to face their arch rivals for a long time as this was the seventh defeat by the Australians in eight outings having lost a home series 6-1 last month.

Australia now take a two-day rest before facing either Pakistan or 2000 winners New Zealand, who clash on Saturday at the Wanderers, in a final offering two million dollars to the winners.

Strauss was first to go with the score on 15 as England imploded to 101-6 before Bresnan and Luke Wright took the fight to the Aussies and added 107 for the seventh wicket. The brave stand ended when Wright got a thick edge to a wide delivery from Peter Siddle and Paine took his fifth catch. Bresnan, playing only because a buttock strain ruled Stuart Broad out, carried on until bowled by Brett Lee, whose yorker uprooted the middle stump.

Given their perilous state 21 overs into the game, Strauss must have been relieved if not satisfied to set Australia a target of 258 on a track that had some grass and cracks and bounce. But after the early exit of Paine, England endured nothing but pain and a fair-size crowd had plenty to cheer as the predicted rain and thunderstorms never materialised.