The World Cup Final may well have been settled in the first over. Three balls into the match a brilliant inswinging delivery from Mitchell Starc smashed into the stumps of Brendon McCullum, New Zealand’s talismanic captain. Throughout this World Cup, McCullum has attacked from the very first ball, regardless of the situation. He set the tone for the New Zealand innings, with his team averaging over seven runs an over in the opening PowerPlay regardless of conditions or circumstance. Here, he faced three balls and did not hit one of them.
For all the talk of batting being the story of this World Cup, the two teams that made the final were the ones with the best bowling attacks. Starc has 22 wickets at an average of 10. Mitchell Johnson has 15 at an average of 24. In the New Zealand ranks Boult, Anderson and Vettori all finish the World Cup with a bowling averaging 20 or fewer. When these two teams met in the group stage 151 was almost a winning score.
For New Zealand, the man of the moment with the bat was Grant Elliott, just as it had been in the semi-final against South Africa. His 83 was what rescued New Zealand after a poor start that saw them lose both openers and Kane Williamson early on. Elliott was well supported by Ross Taylor until the second PowerPlay, when the game effectively ended as a contest. Having recovered from 39-3 to take the score to 150, Taylor fell to the first ball of the 35th over. He was just the first of seven wickets that fell for 33 runs as New Zealand were blown apart like a cheap garden chair in a hurricane.
It left them needing a bowling masterclass from Southee and Boult, and while it was a big ask in Australian conditions, they are both capable of that kind of display. Dave Warner did what McCullum could not when he set off like a steam train in pursuit of this total. He scored more than 20% of the required total before he went for one attacking shot too many and was caught in the deep.
This could have led to panic, but Steve Smith doesn’t do drama these days. Fresh from a match winning hundred in the semi-final, he carried on where he had left off. He continues to walk across his stumps to play the ball into the leg side with a cross bat shot. He just never seems to miss, certainly not often enough to make him reconsidered the tactic. His technique is homespun, but the results are world class. As he hit the winning runs in the final, it was crazy to think that at the start of this Australian summer he wasn’t an automatic pick in this team.
He was accompanied by Michael Clarke, whose inclusion in this side may have been a formality, but it was not made without some questions. Clarke had been struggling with a back injury that could still be career ending, for certain this is his last ODI. The Australian side were winning without him. While it was not a decision that the selectors were ever likely to make, they could have justified leaving Clarke out and retaining George Bailey as captain.
Clarke batted well, especially here in the final. He led the team and is deserving of praise, but it would be a cold hearted person that didn’t feel a little sorry for Bailey who has done so much to mould this team only to spend the final carrying drinks. It is unlikely that Bailey will feel any ill will towards those that were part of the team today – he is too nice a guy for that – but you couldn’t blame him if he did.
Victory came easily enough. New Zealand never had enough runs. It was a shame to see them surrender so tamely after getting to the final as the only undefeated team in the tournament. Perhaps the issue was that this was their first game in Australian conditions. Certainly, Australia are a formidable side at home: they haven’t lost an ODI series in their own country since 2009.
While a New Zealand win would have been a fairy tale ending (for such a small country to win such a major event!), in the end the best team have run out winners in the final. Before the tournament began Australia were the massive favourites, and but for the one blip against New Zealand away from home they have not looked troubled.
The best team won the world’s biggest tournament. That is as it should be.