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Australia's gain helps ease Ashes pain

Their defence of the Champions Trophy title in South Africa went some way to easing the hurt of their summer Ashes defeat, according to Ricky Ponting.

Their successful defence of the Champions Trophy title in South Africa went some way to easing the hurt of their summer Ashes defeat, according to the Australia captain Ricky Ponting. The Aussies bounced back after losing the Test series in England, first with a 6-1 demolition of the same side in the 50-over sphere, then with their six-wicket final success over New Zealand in Centurion late on Monday.

"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." Shane Watson was the hero of the final triumph, reaching his century with successive sixes off the last two balls.

"We needed discipline at the start," said Watson, whose unbeaten 105 took Australia past the target of 201 with almost five overs to spare. "It was hard to score and even to survive in the beginning. I knew if I could be around in the 40th over, we'd have a chance of winning." The Australians beat the English by nine wickets in the semis - following a 6-1 series win in England last month - and were hot favourites to become the first team to retain the 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 programme - Australia ensured they will retain their status at the top limited-overs line-up. "We've been bringing younger, fresher faces into the side," Ponting said, "and two of them [the other being Cameron White who scored 62 runs] saw us home. They handled the situation very well.

"I'm ecstatic. To win a tournament as big as this one is great reward for all the guys, whether it's coaches or players who have been around the group." New Zealand were underdogs from the start, even before losing their captain Daniel Vettori just before the match through a hamstring injury. The stand-in captain Brendon McCullum suffered more than most, falling early for a duck then later dropping a catch off White which proved crucial.

The returning fast bowlers Shane Bond and Kyle Mills had given the New Zealanders a chance after dismissing Ponting and Tim Paine early, but Watson was not to be deterred. "It was a fantastic effort [from Mills and Bond], but in the end we didn't have enough runs on the board, said McCullum. "We came together as a group throughout the tournament. But Australia were brilliant today." pradley@thenational.ae

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