CENTURION: Skipper Ricky Ponting (111) and Shane Watson (136) smashed elegant centuries as Australia trampled England by nine wickets to storm into the final of the Champions Trophy at the SuperSport Park on Friday.
Their sublime unbeaten knocks produced a stunning record 252-run second-wicket partnership for Australia as the defending champions continued to torment England.
Chasing 258 to win the first semi-final and earn their second shot at the title, Australia crushed the target with 8.1 overs to spare.
En route to his 28th ODI hundred, Ponting became the first Australian batsman to touch the 12,000 run-mark when he pulled Graham Onions for a four in the 29th over.
Ponting and Watson, who outscored his skipper with his third ODI hundred, put on an amazing batting display to outwit their rivals yet again.
With this win Australia have now humbled England seven times in the last eight meetings. The world champions had landed in South Africa just a few days after drubbing the British side 6-1 in the post-Ashes ODI series.
The defending champions will now meet the winner of Saturday’s second semi-final between Pakistan and New Zealand in Monday’s title clash at the same venue.
Earlier, Tim Bresnan smashed a career best 80 to help England recover from a calamitous start and reach a fighting 257 in 47.4 overs after opting to bat.
Bresnan, who replaced Stuart Broad in the match, raised a crucial 107-run stand in company of Luke Wright (48) to lift England from a precarious 101/6 in 21st over.
Ponting arrived early on the scene as stumper Tim Paine, who had an outstanding day behind the wickets with five catches and a share in two runs outs, failed with bat.
Ponting was in sublime touch as he drove elegantly all around the park, hitting 12 graceful boundaries and a six in his 115-ball knock.
Watson shrugged off a poor start in the event and struck form when it mattered. His 132-ball aggressive innings was laced with 10 fours and seven powerful sixes.
The duo excoriated the English attack with utter disdain and ruthlessly dashed their hopes. Graham Onions (1/47) was the only successful bowler for England.
At the start, England innings was in tatters having lost six wickets without reaching the half-way mark but Bresnan and Wright batted with steely resolve to extricate their team from the crisis situation.
Bresnan dug in with Wright to redeem the England innings with some clever batting under pressure.
From a depressing 101/6 in 20.2 overs, England went on to put up at least a fighting total.
Bresnan’s splendid knock, adorned with 11 boundaries, came off just 76 balls while Wright helped himself with two boundaries and two massive sixes — both coming off tweaker Nathan Hauritz.
Peter Siddle, ICC emerging player of the year, separated the pair when he had Wight caught behind but there was no let up in England’s assault as Bresnan in company of Graeme Swann (18) continued the good work.
Swann supported his partner well with some smart batting before running himself out.
Bresnan’s excellent innings ended when he attempted a big shot off Brett Lee but was castled.
Siddle (3/55) was the most successful bowler while Lee (2/46) and Shane Watson (2/35) took two wickets apiece.
Run-rate was never a problem for England but they kept losing wickets at regular intervals and soon the top six batsmen were cooling their heels back in the hut.
England did not have the kind of start they wanted as skipper Andrew Strauss (14) got out as early as second over.
After hitting one off Peter Siddle into the crowd in the third man region, Strauss played a sweetly timed shot on the leg but an air-borne James Hopes pulled off a stunning catch.
More to the shock of England side, Owais Shah departed without bothering the scorer as his faint edge flew to the gloves of Paine.
In form Paul Collingwood could not play a big innings but hit a rapid-fire 34 to help England overcome those early jolts along with Joe Denly (36).
The 55-run partnership between the two for the third wicket resurrected the England innings but once Collingwood departed the British team lost the way.
Siddle removed well-set Denly and Shane Watson got rid of Steve Davies (5) and youngster Eoin Morgan (9) in successive overs and suddenly a cruising England was gasping for breath.