In keeping with their captain's desires, England did not die wondering. But expire they assuredly did last night in the Champions Trophy amid a blaze of clinical strokeplay. It is Ricky Ponting's Australia who will take their place in the final on Monday, defending the title they won in India three years ago.
Ponting it was who led the team there with his 28th one-day international century, an innings of bristling authority and composure. From the moment he strode out to bat in this semi-final it was pretty clear what Ponting intended. Indeed, anybody who saw him in practice before the match began would have recognised what was on his mind. There was a hundred also for Shane Watson, not quite as pure but every bit as assertive, as Australia won by nine wickets with 49 balls to spare.
Ponting and Watson shared a partnership of 252 for the second wicket, a record for all wickets in one-day cricket for Australia. Of all the one-day victories that they have inflicted on England in the past four weeks this was the most commanding.
Yet, odd as it seems, England played their part in this match. If it ended as another drubbing pure and simple, England had emerged ferociously, determined to be neither cowed nor intimidated by a team who have made fools of them lately. On another day against other opponents the strategy which they had promised to pursue might have had its reward, but this was Australia, tails up and gimlet-eyed Australia. England came and they went amid a welter of miscalculated aggression.
They fell to 101 for 6 and, although an improbable recovery ensued, led stirringly by the Twitter-witterer himself, Tim Bresnan, in partnership with Luke Wright, it was always likely to be quite insufficient. So it was, as Ponting, the man who probably has a patent on gimlets, played with extreme control. True, the surface was new and true, but there was not a moment in his innings when he was not entirely sure of his purpose. If anything, it was more impressive than the hundred he made against England at Trent Bridge last month. Either way, it was the innings of a great batsman.
That England had come so far was a matter of pride and surprise. This team was without their two best players, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. But while the scintillating and unexpected manner of their victories against Sri Lanka and South Africa is not to be sniffed at this demonstrated how far they have to go. In tournament play, Australia are operating in a parallel universe. They are capable of losing Monday's final against either New Zealand or Pakistan, who meet in the other match at The Wanderers today, but they probably will not.
Andrew Strauss had made it clear that he wanted England to play bold cricket. He set off to do precisely that and had hit a four and six when he clipped one firmly to midwicket which was unfortunately only inches off the ground. James Hopes took an excellent catch diving to his left.
Owais Shah, unlikely hero days earlier, was undone by the bounce of Brett Lee, parrying down the leg side and providing the wicketkeeper Tim Paine with the first of his five catches. There was a brief, glorious flurry from Paul Collingwood, who unfurled a series of strokes which compared with anything that Ponting would play later.
Collingwood has made it his mission in life to defy his critics. The difference, of course, was that Ponting went on, Collingwood got out for 34, beaten by Mitchell Johnson's pace and bounce, and gloving behind.
Not long after it looked as though panic had seized England with Joe Denly, having done the spadework, digging a deep hole by driving at one going away; Eoin Morgan, unable to settle; and Steve Davis, on debut, all gone. Humiliation was entirely possible. But Bresnan, who had rather made an ass of himself by being rude to somebody who joked about his weight on Twitter, played with a maturity and good sense which was the antithesis of that behaviour. He and Wright brought England back into the game.
In 122 one-day ties for Yorkshire, Bresnan's top score was 61, so his 80 in this charged atmosphere was as creditable as it was unexpected. He and Wright put on 107 and, when Wright perished, Graeme Swann played what might have been an important cameo had he not been run out in the first over of the batting powerplay.
England might have thought they had just enough to make Australia ponder. They took a wicket in the second over, but unfortunately that brought in Ponting. Watson was man of the match but the greatness resided with Ponting.
Champions Trophy Scoreboard
Champions Trophy first semi-final at Centurion
Australia beat England by nine wickets
England won toss
*A Strauss c Hopes b Siddle: 14
10 balls 1 four 1 six
J Denly c Paine b Siddle: 36
44 balls 5 fours
O Shah c Paine b Lee: 0
P Collingwood c Paine b Johnson: 34
30 balls 5 fours 1 six
E Morgan c Paine b Watson: 9
†S Davies b Watson: 5
L Wright c Paine b Siddle: 48
68 balls 2 fours 2 sixes
T Bresnan b Lee: 80
76 balls 11 fours
G Swann run out (Hauritz): 18
15 balls 2 fours
J Anderson not out: 5
G Onions run out (Ferguson): 1
Extras (w 6, nb 1): 7
Total (47.4 overs): 257
Fall: 1-15 (Strauss), 2-16 (Shah), 3-71 (Collingwood), 4-91 (Denly), 5-100 (Davies), 6-101 (Morgan), 7-208 (Wright), 8-245 (Swann), 9-251 (Bresnan), 10-257 (Onions).
Bowling: Lee 9-0-46-2 (w1nb1) (4-0-18-1, 2-0-7-0, 3-0-21-1), Siddle 10-0-55-3 (w1) (4-0-21-1, 3-0-13-1, 3-0-21-1), Hopes 4-0-28-0 (1-0-14-0, 3-0-14-0), Johnson 10-1-61-1 (w3) (4-1-21-1, 3-0-16-0, 3-0-24-0), Watson 8.4-1-35-2 (w1) (7-1-28-2, 1.4-0-7-0), Hauritz 6-0-32-0 (3-0-10-0, 3-0-22-0).
Progress: 50 8.6 overs. 100 18.4 overs. 150 31.3 overs. 200 38.6 overs. 250 46.1 overs. Bresnan 50: 53 balls, 6 fours.
S Watson not out: 136
132 balls 10 fours 7 sixes
†T Paine c Davies b Onions: 4
4 balls 1 four
*R Ponting not out:111
115 balls 12 fours 1 six
Extras (lb 2, w 5): 7
Total (1 wkt, 41.5 overs): 258
Fall: 1-6 (Paine).
Did not bat: M E K Hussey, C L White, C J Ferguson, J R Hopes, M G Johnson, B Lee, N M Hauritz, P M Siddle.
Bowling: J Anderson 8.5-0-48-0 (w1) (4-0-24-0, 2-0-6-0, 2.5-0-18-0), G Onions 8-0-47-1 (w3) (6-0-33-1, 2-0-14-0), T Bresnan 8-0-51-0 (w1) (5-0-23-0, 3-0-27-0), P Collingwood 8-0-50-0 (one spell), G Swann 5-0-31-0 (3-0-17-0, 2-0-12-0), L Wright 3-0-18-0 (one spell), O Shah 1-0-11-0 (one spell).
Progress: 50 8.1 overs. 100 20.2 overs. 150 30 overs. 200 36 overs. 250 41 overs. Ponting 50: 58 balls, 7 fours, 100: 104 balls, 11 fours, 1 six; Watson 50: 69 balls, 4 fours, 1 six, 100: 115 balls, 9 fours, 3 sixes.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) & B F Bowden (NZ).
TV replay umpire : A L Hill (NZ).
Match referee: Asad Rauf (Pak).
Man of the match: Watson.Reuse content