The Kangaroos might have won the Champions Trophy by beating West Indies by 8 wickets in the final at Mumbai with Shane Watson getting the Man of the Match award. But it was Nathan Bracken who really deserved the honour as it was his performance that had got the match turned on its head! Bracken is certainly the unsung hero in the star-studded Australian line-up. His 3 for 22 which had come under pressure had stopped what looked to be a Caribbean Calypso from the ugly but effective – Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the dangerous Chris Gayle. The left armer is no way quick and no way that attractive to watch in his action and looks. But the end matter was the fact that he got the Aussies out of a big hole of having to chase a huge total under the lights and on a wicket that was getting slower as the day progressed.
It was a day when the World’s fastest bowler Brett Lee and the World’s best bowler arguably – Glenn McGrath were taken to the cleaners. While Brett Lee was failing to get the swing, McGrath was hardly getting the ball to seam around in their first spells. There was hardly any pace and carry in the wicket and that is what the 29-year old New South Wales left arm medium pacer had cashed in. He knew that the ball was gripping the surface, so he had effectively used the cutters. The pace was being varied quite cleverly by the lanky bowler. Nathan Bracken who had shared the new ball with Brett Lee had a bad start with his first delivery being a wide and the next one being a short and wide one that was cut away fiercely by Gayle for a boundary. He came back strongly though and had a massive leg before appeal that was turned down with Chris Gayle getting the benefit of the doubt from Aleem Dar. At the other end, Brett Lee was bowling as fast as he could and the ball was also traveling as fast as it could off the blades of Chanderpaul and Gayle. Windies had powered to 49 for no loss and it was only Nathan Bracken who put the brakes on the scoring. The first ball of the 6th over was a cutter which was coming in and Chanderpaul who was shaping to force it through point with a horizontal shot dragged it onto his stumps! That was a big breakthrough provided by Nathan Bracken as Chanderpaul had already done his damage in hitting out Brett Lee out of the attack as he was taken for 36 in his 3 overs!
Ricky Ponting was forced to bring in Glenn McGrath to get things under control at Lee’s end but that change was even more drastic with Chris Gayle sending a length delivery over widish long on for a huge six. Windies still in control as long as Gayle was there and blasting on all cylinders. Meanwhile it was once again Nathan Bracken for the Aussies halting the progress of the West Indies as he got Ramnaresh Sarwan to play the flick shot early. It was the change of pace and the ball stopped onto the bat to result in a leading edge to be taken at mid on. It wasn’t the smartest of shots played by Sarwan who was indeed too ambitious to play the flick when the length wasn’t really up. The score was now looking much better for the World Champs as they got two wickets down. The wicket of Sarwan did not deter Chris Gayle from playing his attacking game, he pulled McGrath for a six and followed that up with consecutive boundaries leaving the fielding side rattled.
That McGrath’s over was taken for 14 runs and West Indies were onto 79 for 2 in just the 10th over. Ponting was having the headache of holding back his second powerplay and do something to get things back to normalcy. It would never be easy for a side to chase something over 270 on a wicket which had dual pace and bounce. Just when Ponting was pondering on what his next move would be, Nathan Bracken came up with an absolute beauty to remove the dangerous Chris Gayle. It was a delivery that was coming in with the angle from the left armer but had swung away at the last moment to beat Gayle’s outside half of the bat and then to strike the offstump. For once, Chris Gayle wasn’t good enough to counter the bowling and that one delivery from Bracken had changed the outcome of the game! If at all Gayle could have done something better to that great delivery from Bracken, it was to go a little bit across on his backfoot to cover for the swing and in turn his offstump! What happened after Gayle’s exit was history with Glenn McGrath getting into his own thanks to Nathan Bracken’s destruction and the rest of the match witnessed how the Australians seized the opportunity to keep West Indies under the lid to clinch the title for the first time!
It was swing that had done the trick for Nathan Bracken and it was something that was missing from his repertoire until the Semi Final match against the Kiwis. He was already facing stiff competition from the other left armer Mitchell Johnson who had the extra 10kmph in pace and who does move the ball in both directions. Just before the Semi-Final, Bracken had got his wrist action corrected and was able to swing the ball in the air, otherwise he was going to be an easy medium pacer to be taken for runs. His efforts to improve his bowling had given him instant results as he got New Zealand’s best batsman Stephen Fleming induced in playing a loose drive in that Semi-Final at Mohali. With 10 wickets coming at an average of less than 20.00 and an economy of 4.73 in the five Champions Trophy matches, I think Bracken has done a good job for his side as the third seamer. Sometimes it is the kind of wickets you take that is equally important as a four or five-wicket haul and Bracken has just done that taking wickets of star batsmen and taking them at crucial junctures of the match! Nathan Bracken is slowly but steadily developing into Australia’s version of Chaminda Vaas!