Australia knows how to win. In major tournaments, in major finals, no team raises its performance like Australia. Seven World Cup finals it has made and won five. Michael Clarke 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.”
In Melbourne, before a crowd of of 93,013, an Australian record for a cricket match, Clarke’s men delivered their country its fifth title with a ruthless, clinical display. New Zealand, spirited and thrillingly aggressive throughout the tournament, lost its voice this time.
Being your meanest, toughest self in a grand final is no easy thing. There are nerves and the occasion can overwhelm people. But not Australia. Teams have to play out of their skins to beat it on a day like this. It is a culture, passed on from one generation of players to another. It is a culture players like Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson will spread among the younger players.
Australia came into the tournament after victory in the Test series over India and the triangular series that followed. It began its campaign with a thumping defeat of England in Melbourne. Its game against Bangladesh was washed out, and then followed a one-wicket loss to New Zealand at Eden Park. Australia’s batsmen were accused of mindlessly attacking and lacking a Plan B. It was the only game Australia would lose in the World Cup.
Afghanistan went for 417 in Perth before Sri Lanka was defeated in Sydney. The campaign was well and truly back on track. Players were quickly finding form. Mitchell Starc took Australia to within a whisker of victory in Auckland with his six for 28, bowling fast, swinging, unplayable yorkers. Glenn Maxwell slammed a 51-ball-century against Sri Lanka. David Warner made 178 over Afghanistan. James Faulkner, who was returning from injury, too managed wickets. The pieces were steadily falling in place.
Australia took on a buoyant Pakistan in the quarterfinal where Shane Watson survived a tremendous spell of fast bowling from Wahab Riaz to score an unbeaten half century and see his team through to the semifinals. Watson had been dropped earlier in the tournament but his comeback was a huge bonus to the team.
The semifinal clash with India was expected to be Australia’s toughest fixture. On the outside, Clarke was confident but there was a belief that the team was privately worried about India’s batting. Any such fears proved unfounded as Australia posted a mammoth total and then ran roughshod over India. Steve Smith crafted a sensational hundred to anchor the innings. India’s fast bowlers, who had acquitted themselves well all along, could not contain Australia’s deep batting line-up.
In the final, Australia would brook no resistance. Starc, who later revealed that his dismissal of Brendon McCullum had been based on a plan hatched with the bowling coach, Craig McDermott, took two for 20 and finished as the tournament’s joint-highest wicket-taker with 22 scalps. Then there was Faulkner, whose bowling in the Powerplay overs completely crushed New Zealand.
“We’ve worked really hard at our bowling, not only in the World Cup but leading up to it, and to see it come off is fantastic. Mitch Marsh took five for us in the first game and missed out on the back end of the series. To watch Jimmy (Faulkner) take three in the semi and in the final was fantastic. The whole bowling unit itself was awesome,” Starc said later.
Starc entered this tournament amidst public criticism from Shane Warne, who called him soft. He finished it as Player of the Tournament, being interviewed on the pitch by a fawning Warne. Faulkner, for his part, was not even certain of playing in the World Cup after his injury in the final of the triangular series. That he would finish as Man of the Match in the World Cup final was one of the more remarkable stories to emerge from the tournament.
Clarke's role in all this must be commended. He was openly at war with the selectors over his one-day international future ahead of the World Cup. He announced his retirement a day ahead of the final —questionable timing — but he made a vital half-century there and led his team admirably throughout. His bowling changes in the semifinal were intelligent, although the legend around Clarke the mastermind captain has grown so big that any operational success is in hindsight conveniently traced back to his actions.
The outgoing captain felt he was leaving the team in better shape than he found it. It is true that this squad looks far stronger than the teams which meekly crashed out in the quarterfinals of the 2011 edition and finished at the bottom in the group stages of the 2013 Champions Trophy. How much of that is down to Clarke is open to debate.
What is clear is this much: Australia’s one-day future is secure. Nine members of the World Cup- winning squad are 28 or younger; it bodes remarkably well for the 2019 campaign.
This article was published in the Sportstar issue dated April 11, 2015.
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