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October 7, 2009

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Australia retains Champions

SHANE Watson guided Australia to back-to-back Champions Trophy titles and reached his century with successive sixes off the last two balls in Monday's final against New Zealand in South Africa.

Chasing New Zealand's 200 for nine, Australia struggled early with the loss of Tim Paine and Ricky Ponting with just six runs on the board.

But opener Watson and Cameron White (62) put on 128 for the third wicket to set up Monday's win. Australia reached 206-4 in the 45.2 overs, with Watson clouting the last two balls from Jeetan Patel over deep midwicket and long-on to move from 93 to 105 not out.

"We needed discipline at the start," said Watson, who posted an unbeaten 136 in Australia's semifinal win over England, "It was hard to score and even to survive in the beginning."

Once Watson settled in, New Zealand's hopes slowly evaporated as he produced a second man-of-the-match winning performance in consecutive matches.

"I knew if I could be around in the 40th over, we'd have a chance of winning," Watson said.

The Australians beat the English by nine wickets in the semis -- following a 6-1 series win in England last month -- and were hot favorites to become the first team to retain the Champions Trophy title.

The victory comes after a difficult 12 months for Australia, which has lost test series to India, South Africa and in England and slumped from No. 1 to No. 4 in the test rankings with a young, inexperienced squad.

By winning the Champions Trophy, the second most important ODI tournament in the International Cricket Council's program, Australia ensured it will retain its status at the top limited-overs lineup.

"We've been bringing younger, fresher faces into the side," Ponting said, "and two of them saw us home tonight, and they handled the situation very well.

"I'm ecstatic. To win a tournament as big as this one is a great reward for all the guys, whether it's coaches or players who have been around the group."

Ponting said the long tour to England, which started with the Twenty20 World Cup in June and involved the Ashes test series loss and the ODI series, had been taxing.

"We've had our ups and downs over the past five months as well, but to finish off the way we have here and to win the tournament the way we have, there'll be some big celebrations I'm sure," Ponting said. "It's the second-biggest one-day tournament that you play, there's nothing else outside a World Cup, so it's a very special achievement."

New Zealand was a rank underdog from the start, even before losing skipper Daniel Vettori just before the match.

The Black Caps lost stand-in captain Brendon McCullum early for a duck in the fourth over after he'd won the toss and elected to bat.

McCullum was deputizing for Vettori, who injured a hamstring in the morning while the teams were preparing for the match.

The batsmen struggled to come to grips with some tight bowling, and nobody was able to score at any kind of threatening pace.

Martin Guptill was top scorer for New Zealand with 40 off 64 balls, while the middle-order pair of Neil Broom and James Franklin shared a partnership of 65 for the sixth wicket in just over 14 overs.

Spinner Nathan Hauritz kept things quiet for Australia in the middle overs of the innings, and finished with 3-37 off his 10 overs. Paceman Brett Lee returned 2-45.


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