Oz team has kept clear head

2009-10-02 00:00

AFTER a week of controversy, upsets and some half-decent cricket, the Champions Trophy has reached the semi-final stage, with Australia squaring up to England in the first semi this afternoon at Centurion.

Pre-tournament favourites such as the Proteas, Sri Lanka and even India have fallen by the wayside, and the final four has an air of unpredictability.

Except for defending champions Australia, of course.

Ricky Ponting’s men have quietly set their stall, pushing aside various setbacks through injuries, and they now lie two games away from adding yet more silverware to their burgeoning coffers.

Their near-disaster on Wednesday aside, the Aussies have been solid if unspectacular.

“It’s not been easy, the conditions have been pretty tough for the batters,” Ponting said in the aftermath of their final group game against Pakistan.

“The pitches have not been great, and in fact one of the strips at the Wanderers (for the England-New Zealand game) was probably not fit for this standard of cricket.”

The state of the playing surfaces has attracted plenty of attention, and none of it very complimentary.

Ponting even joked that they had considered settling for a tie against Pakistan, so that they could have an extra day of rest and play on a fresh Wanderers strip.

“Seriously though, you have to hope that the fresh pitches hold up, otherwise it is a bit of a lottery for batsmen.”

The confirmation that both the Wanderers and Centurion will prepare fresh pitches was a source of relief for all concerned, but it is an acute embarrassment for Cricket South Africa that the focus has switched from the players to the conditions so emphatically.

It has not been a good fortnight for South Africa, at all.

Ponting expressed his own “shock” at the Proteas early exit, but cited the lack of hard cricket prior to the tournament as an obvious symptom.

“From when we played them here, they were excited about having a break. I guess that the lack of matches was a factor, because the sides that have done well are the ones who have been playing just before coming over here.”

Switching his attention to today’s clash, Ponting said the England they will face is a different side in some respects.

“When we played them in England they were chopping and changing their side every game. I think they now have a more settled unit, and they have played very well in the competition,” he added.

England batsman Owais Shah said the 6-1 hiding they received at the hands of Australia had helped them play with more freedom, as there was almost nothing expected from them.

“We adopted an attitude of no fear, and I suppose the results have shown that it has worked well for us. From the low of losing 6-1, we realised that we had to just basically try to express ourselves out there. If anything, that mentality has probably made us an even more dangerous side,” the top-order star said.

From a disgruntled, droopy bunch of no-hopers, England have suddenly become dark horses for the title.

Paul Collingwood is in a purple patch, while Shah and Eoin Morgan have also shown a refreshing approach at the crease — with superb results.

Captain Andrew Strauss described England’s batting performance against the Proteas last Sunday as the best he had ever seen from an England side, and they will have to do it again today if they hope to stop a strong Aussie attack.

Brett Lee looks back to his best, both in terms of pace and precision, while Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson have provided handy support.

Tonight provides England with a perfect opportunity to exact some revenge after their series spanking from the Aussies.

It is a once off, and if they find a way to get over the line they will happily claim the more significant victory.

But Ponting, like any half-decent Aussie captain, is not about to let them forget their recent battles.

“It won’t really have any bearing on this match because it was in completely different conditions,” the Aussie skipper said.

“But I know that I prefer to come into this match having won that series 6-1 instead of losing it.”

Wouldn’t you just know it?

Teams

England (probable): 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Joe Denly, 3 Owais Shah, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Luke Wright, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Ryan Sidebottom, 11 James Anderson.

Australia (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Callum Ferguson, 6 Cameron White, 7 James Hopes, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Hauritz, 11 Peter Siddle.

Champions Trophy semi-finals

Today: England v Australia (Centurion)

Tomorrow: Pakistan v New Zealand (The Wanderers)

 

On TV

Play starts at 2.30pm – live Supersport 2 and SABC 3 from 2pm

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