Australia's youth and their warning to the world
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.
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