Watson leads whitewash

Australia began the final Super Series ODI on a high note, with Ponting winning his third consecutive toss and electing to bat once again. The Telstra Dome wicket continued it’s three match evolution, this time presenting as a somewhat seamer-friendly pitch that provided new ball movement and the promise of some turn. Both teams made some changes, with the World XI dropping the disappointing Shoaib Akhtar for the unused Makhaya Ntini and bringing Gayle into the main team for the injured Pietersen, and Australia left out Simon Katich in favour of Cameron White in the starting eleven, with James Hopes and Shahid Afridi the subs.

The World XI struck early, with Ntini getting one to jag back from outside off and comprehensively trap Michael Clarke in front, and for the first time in the series Australia failed to begin with a large opening stand. Ponting and Gilchrist were striking the ball superbly though, and Australia raced along despite the odd sharply moving ball. Makhaya Ntini nearly had Gilchrist with a gem of a delivery that moved away from the left-hander off the pitch, but the in-form Australian keeper was unphased and pulled the next delivery flawlessly for six. Down the other end, Ponting played two sublime strokes off Ntini for consequtive boundaries. After the score moved past 50 though, Gilchrist went one time too many against Pollock and edged one straight up in the air and was caught by the bowler. The second power-play was used immediately at the end of the 10th over, despite a run rate in excess of six, and some tight overs from Flintoff and the introduction of Muralitharan forced the rate down and kept Martyn and Ponting in check. The 16th over heralded the final power-play though, and some terribly inaccurate bowling from Flintoff saw several boundaries and Australia cruising towards 100 with just two wickets down. Ponting continued the punishment of Flintoff in his next over, smashing the first delivery over mid-on for six, as the Australian captain raced towards his second consecutive half-century. The very next ball presented a difficult return chance for the England all-rounder, but the ball bounced painfully off his wrist and hit the turf. After a lengthy delay, Flintoff was forced to leave the attack in favour of Kallis two balls into his 5th over. Kallis continued the World XI trend of bowling on Ponting’s pads, and was dispatched promptly to the boundary. The fielding restrictions finally ended with the score on 2/121, after an improved over from Kallis that nevertheless allowed Ponting to bring up a wonderful half-century.

Immediately after the final power play, Pollock turned to spin from both ends as Vettori joined Muralitharan. The spinner set about reducing the run rate with some tight bowling, and Australia seemed content to see off the dangerous Muralitharan and look to score off other bowlers. Ponting still showed flashes of brilliance though, with a pair of boundaries in consecutive overs pushing him up towards 70, before he chanced his arm against the wrong ball and handed a simple catch to Brian Lara at short-midwicket and fell for 68. The half-way point of the innings came at 3/143, with a huge score still on the cards for Australia. Murali’s next over brought another vital breakthrough though, as Symonds top-edged a wide delivery and Sangakkara hung on well, and suddenly Australia were reeling slightly, and Muralitharan had 2/23 from 7 overs. The wickets continued to tumble as Vettori removed Martyn for 33 in the next over, and became the first batsmen in the Super Series to be dismissed via the new third umpire powers, as Dar referred his LBW call and the decision came back in the affirmative. Australia were then 5/148 with Watson coming to the crease and 22 overs remaining, having lost three wickets in four overs. Cashing in on the success of the spinners, Pollock turned to the spin of Chris Gayle to replace Muralitharan and fill in the missing overs from the injured Flintoff, and he began economically as Australia looked to rebuild and push on to a score in excess of 250.

What followed was one of the great rear-guard ODI partnerships, as Watson and Hussey first consolidated and then mercilessly attacked against bowlers with huge repuations. The only blemishes came when Hussey gave a sharp chance to Sangakkara off Sehwag, and in the dying overs Watson hit one straight to Afridi but it shot through his hands for a boundary. Hussey and Watson first consolidated well, looking for singles but scoring few boundaries, and carried the score past 200 without risk. Along the way they saw off the final over from Daniel Vettori, who managed a very economical 1/34 from his 10 overs. The 6th wicket pair turned singles into twos with brilliant running, cutting it close but avoiding serious risks most times. The introduction of Pollock into the attack with 9 overs to go brought about some more aggressive batting, as both Australian batsmen were set and into the 30s, and the 42nd over went for 13 runs. Muralitharan completed his 10 overs with figures of 2/37, his final over yielding only a single boundary to Watson, and Pollock was forced to turn away from his main spinners for the final seven overs. The first ball of the next over yielded a massive six straight down the ground, as Australia set their sights well beyond 250 with wickets in hand.

With 6 overs to go, Pollock turned to Gayle from one end to try and contain the scoring rate, and he did a reasonable job with his first over with consistent yorker-length bowling, but some good running yielded 7 off the over. Ntini entered the attack, and Hussey brought up his fourth ODI half-century with a boundary off the first ball of the over, and followed it up with another as Australia raced up to 250. The century partnership came up at almost a run a ball, and at the start of the 48th over Watson brought up his own 50, just the second of his career. Controversy struck in the same over, when Hussey followed up a beautiful off-side boundary by skying a ball to Afridi at deep mid-on, only to have umpire Dar call for the third umpire to question whether or not Ntini overstepped. The replay appeared extremely marginal, but the decision was that Ntini had no part of his foot behind the line, and the wicket did not count.

Watson smashed the first ball of the second last over to the fence, and hit the next straight to Afridi, only to have the Pakistani all-rounder let the ball straight through his hands for another four. Aside from the chance, the 49th was an excellent over for Australia, eventually yielding 14 runs as the score closed in on 300, when 250 had once seemed quite remote. The final over began remarkably, as Mike Hussey smashed away what should have been a comfortable six, only to have the ball hit the roof and come down onto the field, and umpire Dar declared a dead ball and nothing was scored. In the end, the partnership yielded 145 runs off just 133 balls, and pushed Australia up to a huge total of 5/293. It was comfortably the best innings of Watson’s career, and added to Hussey’s growing reputation in international cricket as a dangerous lower order batsmen in limited overs matches. After the brilliant bowling of Vettori and Muralitharan held back the middle order, a score in excess of 290 looked an impossibility, but Australia continued to out-do expectations in what has been a remarkable Super Series.

294 was always going to be an incredibly difficult target to chase down under the circumstances, and the result was beyond doubt within seven overs as Brett Lee bowled a devastating spell to put the World XI on the ropes. It took just two balls for him to make the first breakthrough, as he got one to swing in slightly to Gayle and bowled him through a very loose stroke, and from then on things never improved for the World XI. McGrath bowled a gorgeous spell despite being sent to the boundary on several occasions, and picked up the wicket of Sangakkara as the Sri Lankan attempted to pull in an unlikely manner and skied an easy catch to Martyn. Lee blasted out his second wicket in his fourth over, as he got one to rear on Kallis slightly down the leg-side, and the South African played slightly unnecessarily at it and could only deflect it into the hands of Hussey. The very next ball Lee had his third, as he pitched one up to the new man Lara and caught the outside edge and Gilchrist held on at the second attempt.

Less than 10 overs into the innings, but at 4/27 it was impossible to see the World XI getting back into the game. The effort was there though, as Flintoff and Sehwag consolidated and saw the Australian openers out of the attack, then flew into the bowling of Bracken and Watson mercilessly. They blasted a 60 run partnership in just 43 balls, with Bracken in particular unable to keep the runs down and struggling to find the accuracy and swing he had in the first two games. His line and length was wayward, and when he dropped short he was smashed over the infield. It appeared that the 5th wicket pair might inject some life into the game yet, but Watson ended things with a full ball with a hint of swing that had Flintoff clean bowled.

It was just a matter of time from there, and a chance for Watson to comprehensively claim the match as his own. His next piece of brilliance came a few overs later when Dravid dropped one at his feet and scampered through for a single. Watson took off after the ball in what seemed a usual hopeless effort, but somehow he beat the batsman there, scooped the ball up and threw it in one motion, and Sehwag was caught short of his ground. Bracken’s bowling at the other end had improved somewhat, and he was finding some dangerous swing and bowling more accurately, but after five overs he was taken out of the attack, and Lee’s return brought the 7th wicket. Lee dug in a vicious bouncer to Dravid, who skied the ball attempting to pull it and Martyn took his second catch of the innings.

It was then left to Watson to remove the tail, as Vettori his one straight to Clarke at point, and Pollock skied the ball to allow White to impress with a difficult running catch in another game where he neither batted nor bowled. Afridi then hit the final ball of Watson’s 8th over straight to McGrath, and Watson took his fourth wicket, sealed his second man of the match award for the series and completed a 3-0 whitewash for Australia in a truly remarkable team performance.

The World XI will leave this leg of the series with little to be proud of. A team of stars crumbled hopelessly to a team with unproven names and multiple debutants. Of all people, it was the likes of Watson and Bracken along with Lee, McGrath, Gilchrist and Ponting that dominated the series, and several of the big names in the World side such as Lara, Pietersen, Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi may as well not have got on the plane. The attention of the world now turns to Sydney, where the six day Super Test promises a much more competitive performance from the World XI side, and another chance for Australia to show that the Ashes loss was a blip, not the end of an era.

Score Summary

Australia 5/293 (50)
Mike Hussey 75* (74), Ricky Ponting 68 (84)
Muttiah Muralitharan 2/38 (10), Daniel Vettori 1/34 (10)

ICC World XI 137 (27.5)
Varinder Sehwag 37 (40), Andrew Flintoff 21 (25)
Brett Lee 4/30 (9), Shane Watson 4/39 (7.5)

Australia win by 156 runs.
Australia win the 3 match series 3-0.

CricketWeb Player of the Match
Shane Watson – 66* (66), 4/39 (7.5) and a run-out.

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