Made for the big moments

With their fifth World Cup triumph, Australians are back again to rule the world of cricket

Made for the big moments
New Zealand were the emotional favourites to win the World Cup but as Michael Clarke pointed out while announcing his retirement, it’s the skills that win you matches and not emotions. And on Sunday’s finale, the Aussies displayed better all-round skills.

New Zealand had played a captivating style of cricket through their unbeaten run to the final. They were aggressive with their batting exemplified by their skipper Brendon McCullum’s no-holds-barred approach; they had been attacking with their bowling and fielding and had richly benefitted from this strategy. On the most important day of the tournament, however, the Kiwis decided to ditch their brand of cricket at the first hint of pressure. Or rather, they were forced into embracing caution by the ruthless Australians who are streets ahead when it comes to raising the game on big occasions.

It had taken 12 years for the Aussies to claim their first World Cup which came in 1987 at the Eden Gardens but since then they have won four of the seven titles. And more impressively, this is the fourth Cup in five attempts for them with only India preventing them from making it five in a row when they were knocked out in the quarters in the last edition.

It’s not just in the World Cups, their grip over 50-over cricket extends to the Champions Trophy too, a tournament they have won twice in succession (2006, 2009). India are the only other team with two Champions Trophy triumphs though they had to share the title with Sri Lanka in 2002 after the final was washed out.        

Any captain would consider himself lucky if he has two-three game-changers in the side. Australia, though, are teeming with match winners. Just a glance at their knockout performances provides a picture of the enviable resources in their ranks. Josh Hazlewood finished with just seven wickets from five matches but his four-wicket haul against Pakistan in the quarterfinal set up the match for them and when Wahab Riaz was spitting fire, Steven Smith and Shane Watson weathered the storm to sail through to the semis.

Smith once again singed India with the bat, his century deflating the Indian attack in the semifinals. Equally crucial was Aaron Finch’s battling 81. With the ball, Mitchell Johnson, who had been under Mitchell Starc’s shadow till then, stepped up on the occasion to smother India’s chase with the wickets of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Johnson had hurt India with the ball as well smashing a 9-ball-27 as had James Faulkner with a 12-ball-21.

Faulkner inflicted major damage in the final when the Kiwis had done well to resurrect the innings after early setbacks through a 111-run association between Grant Elliott and Ross Taylor. His two wickets off three balls allowed the Aussies to break open the door. The target of 183 was never going to test Australia’s batting fire power but outgoing skipper Clarke made it ridiculously easy with a sparkling 74 (72b, 10x4, 1x6). Starc of course had been positively brilliant with the new ball and then when it became old throughout the campaign. His fast, swinging deliveries netted him 22 wickets and the man of the tournament honour. It’s this ability to throw up a hero at every crunch moment in big games, Clarke said, that set the Australian team apart.  

“I think the Australian way has always been about the big games,” he noted. “I think it's probably something I learned at a young age, that the big players always stood up in major tournaments. You know, they weren't scared of losing. They always wanted to bowl or wanted to bat in that big tournament, and I guess I was probably 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. I think there's a lot of players in this current change room that love that, as well, and I think we showed that today on the biggest stage. With as much expectation and pressure as you have on you in your career, playing a World Cup final in front of your home fans, every single player wanted to bowl or wanted to bat or wanted to take that catch. It's a special feeling. I think I've been really fortunate as captain to be able to turn to so many of the players under pressure and they want that opportunity,” he elaborated.

And the fact that the average age of the nine players, who played at least one game in this World Cup, is just over 24 strongly suggests that Australia are going to be a dominant force in ODIs till when England host the next edition in 2019.

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