Handling pressure at home: The Australian way

There is something to be said for the emphatic nature of Australia’s run chase. Despite Aaron Finch’s early exit, David Warner, Steve Smith and Michael Clarke made sure it was a stroll home. What nerves? What pressure?

Victory at home... Australian players celebrate after defeating New Zealand in the final of the 2015 ICC World Cup at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.   -  Getty Images

Fanfare... Australia supporters cheer their team in the 2015 World Cup semi-final against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Australian fans equalled, if not surpassed, India's in number, and during the final, they drowned out the sounds of the New Zealand supporters.   -  Getty Images

The 2015 ICC World Cup never truly captured Australia’s imagination until the final week of the tournament. It was only during Australia’s semi-final in Sydney that the crowds first seemed to take the World Cup to their hearts. Unlike India, cricket does not overshadow every aspect of Australian sporting life. It is just another sport. So while Australia may have been under pressure to win the World Cup on home soil, it would have been nothing like the asphyxiating weight of expectation India’s cricketers laboured under four years before.

For Australia’s Pool A clash with Afghanistan in Perth, only 12,710 turned out, when the WACA could have held at least 10,000 more. Days before the semi-final at the SCG, Michael Clarke and David Warner exhorted their fans to turn up in large numbers. “I call on all Australian cricket lovers to paint the SCG gold on Thursday. We need your support. #goldout,” they wrote on Twitter.

 

Indian cricketers are unlikely to ever be required to issue such pleas for support. On the eve of the game, Clarke admitted that Indian fans might outnumber Australian ones (although that would not transpire). “It’s a no-brainer; we know they will,” the Australian captain said. “I think it’s fine. We know we’ve got the support of the Australian public. We’ve felt it the whole tournament, and we’ll feel it again tomorrow whether it’s 30% of the fans here or 50% of the fans. Indian fans in general are wonderful supporters of the game,” he said.

As it turned out, Australia’s supporters equalled, if not surpassed, India’s in number although it was impossible to correctly tell. At the final, however, there were no such doubts. From early in the afternoon, trams from Flinders Street were bursting at the seams as they made their way to Jolimont Terrace. Fans in gold poured out of pubs near the MCG, where they had been camped since morning. Chants of ‘Come on, Aussie, come on,’ rang out across Yarra Park as supporters streamed through the turnstiles. There were Kiwis in the crowd — a few thousand of them — but their voices were pretty quickly drowned out. The attendance that day was a staggering 93,013, a record for a cricket match in Australia. It made for a thrilling, spine-tingling atmosphere, one enhanced by the home team’s early success.

Five balls into the final, Mitchell Starc bowled Brendon McCullum with a missile of a yorker, sending up an electric roar. Australia rode that wave of electricity the rest of the afternoon and evening, not giving New Zealand even a sniff of victory. From 39 for three, McCullum’s lot clawed their way back to 150 for three, but James Faulkner struck vital blows at the right moments. Starc and Mitchell Johnson then cleaned up the rest, leaving Australia with a target of only 184.

There is something to be said, though, for the emphatic nature of Australia’s run chase. Despite Aaron Finch’s early exit, David Warner, Steve Smith and Michael Clarke made sure it was a stroll home. What nerves? What pressure? Clarke later called it ‘the Australian way’.

“The Australian way has always been about the big games,” he said.

“It’s probably something I learned at a young age, that the big players always stood up in major tournaments. They weren’t scared of losing. They always wanted to bowl or wanted to bat in that big tournament, and I guess I was lucky enough to grow up in a team that had six, seven, eight of those players that wanted the ball, that wanted the bat on that stage.”

Mitchell Johnson felt it was simply in Australia’s nature to play big games without fuss. “The ruthlessness is what we’re all about,” he said. “We play hard cricket. We built up to the final to play that kind of cricket.”

After the trophy and the medals were handed out, Australia’s cricketers went on a victory lap around the ground, marvelling at how many people in the crowd had stayed back to applaud their team after the final ball. In a spot interview on the outfield, Smith even thanked the crowd for still hanging around in support. It is unthinkable in the Indian context.

On the day of the final, Australia was professional, ruthless and simply too good. “I said after our semi-final that mentally we were ready for this final. Even today, once we bowled New Zealand out, six or seven of the guys went to the nets for a hit in the lead-up to our batting innings. It shows the discipline and the dedication,” Clarke said, after the game. “Not only to win a World Cup but to win in front of your home fans — there was a lot of expectation and pressure, and the boys soaked that up from day one and loved every minute of it.”