World Cup

Pentastic! Clarke makes it five for Australia

Australian captain Michael Clarke holds the trophy aloft with his teammates as they celebrate their seven wicket win over New Zealand in the Cricket World Cup final in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)   | Photo Credit: Rick Rycroft

Australia was simply too good.

A lesser team may have fluffed its lines on the big occasion before an adoring home crowd, but it left nothing to chance on Sunday. First, its fast bowlers broke the spine of New Zealand’s batting; then its departing captain and the heir apparent scored a pair of half centuries to ensure victory would be achieved without any hiccough.

Steadily, inevitably, and with embarrassing ease, Australia defeated New Zealand by seven wickets at the MCG to be crowned World championagain. It was the nation’s fifth World Cup title, and the fourth from the last five editions.

If this final felt uninspiring and lopsided, Australia didn’t seem to care. The majority of the 93,013 at the MCG didn’t. New Zealand’s dreams, in its first World Cup final, were mercilessly shattered but the Australian cricket team does not show mercy.

Smith-Clarke show

Chasing a target of 184, Clarke’s men crossed the line with nearly 17 overs to spare. The skipper himself was dismissed nine runs from the end, for a 72-ball-74.

Clarke walked in at the fall of the second wicket. He began hesitantly, his first boundary not struck until his 19th ball, but soon there returned the usual grace and fluency. Matt Henry was driven through the covers, Daniel Vettori lofted smoothly over the sight-screen, and Tim Southee hit for four consecutive fours.

Clarke chopped Henry onto the stumps shortly before the end. The MCG rose as one to applaud him, while a couple of New Zealand players ran up to shake his hands.

Steve Smith batted effortlessly yet again, combining with Clarke to add 112 runs for the third wicket. He remained unbeaten on 56, a fifth fifty in a row for him, scoring the winning runs with a pull to the square-leg boundary off Henry.

New Zealand tried, with all its collective heart. Brendon McCullum hared after every ball from mid-off as if his life depended on it. At 63 for two, with the openers removed, he may have felt New Zealand had a foot in the door, but it was slammed shut pretty quickly.

Third ball disaster

A lot hinged on how well McCullum, who won the toss, fared with the bat. There have been times at this World Cup when he has flown away like a rocket, setting the tone for the rest of the innings. On Sunday, though, he failed to take off. He lasted all of three balls, bowled neck and crop by a cruise missile of a yorker from Mitchell Starc in the opening over.

This was a flat pitch but Australia’s bowlers, Mitchell Johnson in particular, were irrepressible. New Zealand ambled to 33 for one in 11 overs, when Clarke introduced Glenn Maxwell. He bowled Martin Guptill with only his second delivery, the batsman out playing inside the line.

Kane Williamson has had an underwhelming World Cup, after a year when he could do no wrong. He contributed little here, caught and bowled by Johnson for 12.

Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott then allied to add 111 runs for the fourth wicket. Elliott, New Zealand’s hero from the semifinal, picked up from where he had left off. He had his luck — an lbw decision that was reversed on review and a top edge that sailed over the wicket-keeper’s head for six — but there was no mistaking his confidence. The dab through third man was a favourite of his, finding the boundary with it on at least three occasions. At 150 for three, the New Zealand innings looked to have been resurrected when the Powerplay began.

On came James Faulkner, a cricketer with an uncanny ability to make things happen. He had Taylor caught behind first ball of the PowerPlay with a slower delivery. Two balls later, he bowled Corey Anderson for nought.

When Luke Ronchi was caught expertly at slip by Clarke in the next over, New Zealand had lost three for one in the space of eight balls. Elliott was eventually excised by Faulkner — another slower ball — for 83, and New Zealand folded inside 45 overs.

Tactical report — Faulkner settles it in batting Powerplay

Before Sunday, the last time New Zealand played a one-day international in Australia was in February 2009. To expect the Black Caps, having played all their previous World Cup matches at home, to beat Australia in its own conditions in the final was asking a lot.

The ball didn't swing for a long time, yes, but New Zealand did not even give Trent Boult and Tim Southee a chance. The match was lost elsewhere. From 150 for three at the start of the Powerplay overs, the Kiwis fell to 183 all out, when they might have been looking at 280.

It was James Faulkner who was chiefly responsible for that damage, sending back Taylor, the big-hitting Corey Anderson, and Grant Elliott. “It was a pivotal moment,” McCullum said later. “From 150 for three after 35 overs, most times we’d firmly believe that we’re capable of 270, 280, if not more. It was unlucky for Rossco to get out the way he did, and then we saw Australia really bare its teeth and put the hammer down on us. If we had been able to get through three or four overs at a decent strike rate, we would have been able to launch later on.”


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