Australia v New Zealand, World Cup 2015, final, Melbourne March 29, 2015

Australia's youth and their warning to the world

The display of a young and hungry pace attack and Steven Smith's steel won the World Cup final and there were signs that this group can go on to dominate ODIs for the next five years
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Inside three balls, a world record MCG crowd of 93,013 saw precisely why Australia would be lifting the World Cup six or so hours later. Mitchell Starc was too fast, too accurate and too composed for Brendon McCullum, New Zealand's warrior captain made to look foolish by the bowler of the tournament. The sight of McCullum's off stump tilted back was enough to sink New Zealand hearts and set Australian ones racing. Michael Clarke's team never quite came down from that high.

Australia won the World Cup final the way they won the tournament as a whole. Fast bowling that was as aggressive as it was accurate, personified by Starc, agile and alert fielding accompanied by intimidatory snarls, and batting adequate for the task thanks mainly to the undeniable class of Steven Smith. There was strength in depth, underlined by the fact that every member of the final XI produced at least one match-turning display over the course of the tournament.

This was a most Australian team, playing in a most Australian style in Australian conditions. The coach Darren Lehmann brought beers back into the dressing room, per Chappell, per Border. Australia's supremacy down under is yet to be followed up by consistent success abroad. It is also true that they are not the most loveable bunch to set foot on a cricket field, and at times can be outright boorish. But on home soil they are Cup winners, a garland that can cover all manner of sins less enduring than defeat.

If this was the end of the road for the captain Clarke, and probably others in terms of World Cups such as Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin and Shane Watson, it certainly was not the end of an era for Australia's cricket. A victory built on pace bowling was also built on youth - Johnson is the only member of the bowling attack over the age of 25, let alone 30.

In Starc (25), Josh Hazlewood (24), James Faulkner (24), Pat Cummins (21) and the not selected James Pattinson (24), Lehmann and Clarke's likely successor Smith have the sort of firepower to ensure they need only score a moderate amount of runs to remain at or near the top of world cricket for at least the next five years. Some had questioned the omission of Ryan Harris from the Cup squad when it was announced. On final day he was at the MCG commentating, and it reflected great credit on his younger compatriots that he was not overly missed.

Starc's marriage of precision and penetration has been breathtaking at times. His dismantling of McCullum will come to be remembered as the moment Australia effectively won the final, for it was a blow as psychological as it was technical. Bowlers have feared for their own safety in McCullum's presence this tournament, but in three balls he was as powerless against Starc as his lower-order counterparts had been in the frenzied finish at Eden Park.

The effect of the early wicket was to cause the rest of the New Zealand top order to retreat, and for Australia's bowlers to swarm all over them. Short balls were avoided and parried but never taken on, dead bats and leaves were common, and when Glenn Maxwell came into the attack, a tentative Martin Guptill was bowled by a delivery that he might have struck for six during his double hundred in the quarter-final.

Clarke marshalled his troops as expertly as ever, using his resources so tidily that while Grant Elliott and Ross Taylor put on a partnership that saved some face, they were never able to dominate. When Faulkner winkled out Taylor then zipped past Corey Anderson, Clarke recalled Starc and Johnson to round up New Zealand in a chillingly swift manner. The last seven wickets mustered just 33.

Australia brushed aside New Zealand to seal their fifth World Cup © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

When Tim Southee and Trent Boult conjured early swing, as expected, and Aaron Finch and David Warner struggled initially to counter it, as expected, Smith served once again as Australia's stabiliser in the best traditions of Nos. 3. Smith was the only Australian batsman in the top 10 World Cup run-makers, but critically the most spinal batsman of the tournament's second half.

At the start of the event, Smith was slightly out of sync and somewhat wasted at No. 5, but his move to No. 3 following the loss to New Zealand in Auckland was arguably the moment at which Australia established their winning formula. In truth, he had looked the team's best option at first drop from the moment he cuffed a fine hundred against Pakistan in Sharjah before the home summer, but it took some more travails for Shane Watson and defeat to New Zealand across the Tasman to put him there more permanently.

Smith's assured bearing at the crease was not just reflected in his performances. By looking so calm and making his runs without undue risk, others were granted the freedom to play their own expansive games. The ball from Matt Henry that Smith squeezed back onto his stumps without dislodging a Zing bail was the exception that proved the rule - he has passed 50 in all five innings since his promotion and offered barely a chance in doing so.

Watching Clarke try to muscle balls to the boundary, an emulation of other more powerful team-mates, was like watching Shane Warne delivering a bouncer: the effort is obvious, but it's just not his gig. After a while at the crease Clarke grew comfortable, and pinged the ball down the ground with superb timing that illustrated why he should remain a fulcrum of the Test batting line-up for some time to come. By the end he was striking the ball sweetly, providing a fitting epitaph to his ODI career.

Clarke's exit left little for Watson and Smith to do, but it was entirely fitting that the man to strike the winning runs would be Smith, swinging the ball away to square leg for the final boundary. Thus Australia's victory was topped by the team's outstanding bowler and tailed by their finest batsmen, both 25 years of age. World Cup finals signify the end of something, but for Starc, Smith and much of Australia's XI, this giddy night will be the start of something too.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jake on April 2, 2015, 22:25 GMT

    What a team. No other country is even close atm. Strong openers, very solid top order. Then firepower all the way down the order. And a bowling attack that just destroys other teams. Magnificent. NZ are the second best team with similar strengths.

  • Balaji on April 1, 2015, 9:59 GMT

    Starc has come of age, but personally I feel that the rejig of the batting was what turned things around for the Aussies. Watson at 5, Maxwell at 6, Faulkner at 7, Haddin at 8 and Johnson at 9 constituted a team with tremendous hitting power. Watson was freed from the pressures of batting at 3. He is not a top order batsman, and this World Cup proved it.

  • Rohan on April 1, 2015, 9:03 GMT

    Loving the sour grapes from fans of teams other than Australia! Thankyou, your sad tirades are music to our ears! Lol Frankly, I don't care about the next tour of India and the charming mud heap pitches made to order for your unknown spinners to weave their "magic"! Australia are now champions of the world in ODI and no.2 in tests having already beaten the no.1 team away, the so called mighty SA! We also rightfully hold The Ashes. India, well they just played for four months in Australia and never beat the hosts once! Life is great!!

  • Zaheer on March 31, 2015, 16:43 GMT

    The current Australian team is a good ODI side, but it is certainly not a world dominating team in all formats of the game. Aussies may still steam roll mediocre bowling sides like England, but against quality bowling and especially on tour, they struggle. Australia's test series white wash loss against Pakistan recently is a case in point.

    The real world dominating side was West Indies of late 1970s and early 1980s. They were near invincible whoever and wherever they played. This Australian team is no where near that.

  • Reetam on March 31, 2015, 16:38 GMT

    @Eric: Ok mate. Let's talk about this after the the next Oz tour to India (Tests). Would love to see u then !!!

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2015, 12:02 GMT

    Well Daniel .....I can agree with you on only one account....Smith was the player who made all the difference for Aus....In fact I couldn't believe he was denied the Man of the tournament award....three knockout games...and thrice he batted like he was facing mediocre bowling....when rest all struggled...as for the Aussie bowling....well even Ashwin and Jadeja helped India to 4-0 in India....Don't look too much into it mate....As for Smith...that shuffle before the wicket and standing near the stumps....can be a two edged knife....well only time will tell in him we saw a Paolo Rossi or a Maradona...

  • Melroy on March 31, 2015, 8:31 GMT

    Best msg ever seen Eric... well said!

  • Harsh on March 31, 2015, 8:16 GMT

    This Australian team at the end of the tournament was only behind the Clive Lloyd led West Indian teams and the Ricky Ponting led Australian team amongst the winners.I would have backed this Aussie team against the 1983,1987,1992 aand 1996 winners.It had more variations and balance .In terms of professionalism at par with the best of Australian teams.

  • Piripi on March 31, 2015, 8:03 GMT

    Yes, Aus have some good young players. Looks like they will be built around Starc and Smith in the future. NZ also building nicely with young players, but will always struggle to beat Aus away from home, as they have far fewer resources, smaller player base and no Mitchell Starc. India will always be a strong batting side and Pakistan could challenge if they find some batsmen and get their best bowling attack on the field. England, I'm afraid, are up against it in the Ashes.

  • Harsh on March 31, 2015, 7:56 GMT

    In the final Australia was head and shoulders above any team.It peaked in the semi-final and final and proved how much the game is in the mind.No team posessed even half the professionalism and mental tenacity of this Australian unit.The batting depth and striking power of pace bowlers gave them an edge but on paper South Africa was marginally better.

    However the game of cricket was a loser with the Kiwis putting up no sort of resistance and folding away after recovering to 150-3.I feel they were not used to playing in Australia and playing their first game of the cup in Australia worked against them.At this form on Australian pitches I would almost certainly backed India or South Africa to beat the Kiwis in the final.

    I must congratulate Australia for their victory but overall felt this world cup hardly had enough close-fought games and became too predictable.

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