Sun, Nov 05, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Windies determined to retain Champions title

WINNING STREAK Skipper Brian Lara believes his squad can keep up the momentum and beat Australia to hold on to the trophy they lifted in England two years ago

AFP , MUMBAI, INDIA

West Indian cricket captain Brian Lara, left, looks on with his South African counterpart Graeme Smith during the presentation ceremony after their Champions Trophy semi-final match at The Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on Nov 2.

PHOTO: AFP

The West Indies are determined to cash in on their winning streak and retain the Champions Trophy when they clash with favorites Australia today.

"It's nice to be playing the world champions in the final. We look forward to the challenge and back ourselves to win," said Windies captain Brian Lara ahead of the title clash under lights at the Brabourne Stadium.

Lara's defending champions, ranked eighth in the world, stunned the rest of the cricket world by coming through the qualifying rounds to make the final of the biennial tournament with five wins from seven matches.

One of the those wins was against Australia in the league stage at the same venue on Oct. 18, when fast bowler Jerome Taylor became the first West Indian to take a limited-overs hat-trick in a sensational finish.

The West Indians, restricted to 234-6, bowled out the mighty Australians for 224 on a dusty wicket with Taylor picking up the last three wickets in three deliveries.

The wicket for today's final promises to be more batsmen-friendly, setting the stage for a rousing contest that should fill the stands despite hosts India being knocked out early.

Australia, the undisputed leaders in both forms of the game who won the last two World Cups in 1999 and 2003, hope to make their first-ever appearance in the Champions Trophy final a memorable one.

"This is one trophy missing from our cupboard and we are obviously keen to take it home," said captain Ricky Ponting, whose side won three straight matches after the defeat to the West Indies. "The momentum we have gained in the tournament gives us the confidence to win the final."

Lara conceded Australia will not be beaten easily even though the West Indies share a 2-2 record in their last four games against the world champions.

"I am sure the Aussies are very, very buoyed and confident of their chances on Sunday," he said. "We have to realize that we are going to play a completely different opposition to the one we played against in the league match."

"In that game, Australia were playing their first match on that pitch and so we had a sort of an advantage. But now we must go back to basics and plan carefully," he added.

Lara said the West Indian resurgence bodes well for the World Cup the Caribbean nations will be hosting in March next year.

"We are building up momentum, and the guys are believing in themselves, believing in the plans and executing it well," he said. "These are going to be exciting times ahead for us."

The West Indians will once again bank on brilliant opener Chris Gayle to continue his good form that has given the left-hander three centuries in the tournament, including an unbeaten 133 against South Africa in the semi-final on Thursday.

Gayle remains the front-runner for the man of the tournament award with the leading aggregate of 437 runs from seven matches at an average of 87.40.

"I am almost sure that Chris will not want to leave the center stage to anyone in the final," Lara said. "He has always been a top player -- with the bat, with the ball and in the field."

Fiery Australian fast bowler Brett Lee, whose contest with Gayle could be one of the highlights of the final, said he was raring to go.

"A lot has been said about Australia's track record in the Champions Trophy," Lee said. "So this time we are really determined to make a mark. The earlier loss to the West Indies was a wake-up call for us. Now we are ready to take them on again."

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