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Never lose your captain for a duck

Michael Clarke and Brendon McCullum wish each other the best before the big final International Cricket Council

1. Your captain getting out for a duck in the first over of a World Cup final is a very bad idea
When the World Cup final peaked with 99.16% of its potential playing time remaining, as Mitchell Starc's blazing yorker meteored into Brendon McCullum's stumps, it was clear that New Zealand were going to struggle. Not only had they lost their most lethal attacking force, and with him the chance of damaging Australia in the opening phase of the game, but they had also come up snout to snout against a statistic that simply screamed: "Oooops. On reflection, might have been worth taking two or three balls to settle in."

World Cups have a long established tradition of winning captains finishing the tournament with a significant innings, including at least one six. This sequence dates back to Imran Khan's 72, also at the MCG, in 1992. McCullum had lost his chance to join that tradition within a couple of minutes of the start of play, in which he had played a significant innings, albeit one of negative significance for his own team, and in which he had failed to hit a six. Or, indeed, any ball. Michael Clarke duly stepped up to the final plate, and stroked his way to World Cup glory and ODI retirement with a final flurry of shorter-format brilliance - 74, including the obligatory winning captain's six, lofted down the ground off Daniel Vettori.

Furthermore, the Australia captain was the first winning captain to be dismissed by a bowler in a World Cup final since Imran, who hit one six in a crucial innings before being dismissed by Ian Botham. In 1996, Arjuna Ranatunga hit a solitary six in his 47 not out as he guided Sri Lanka to their triumph. The sequence, if slightly tainted by the fact that, in 1999, Steve Waugh did not bat in the final (but is then immediately de-tainted by the fact that he did hit a six in his final innings of the tournament, an important 56 in the titanic semi against South Africa). In 2003, Ricky Ponting cleared the ropes eight times in an undefeated 140; four years later, he was run out after scoring 37 (with one maximum, off Lasith Malinga). Dhoni's tournament-ending megathwack in Mumbai in 2011 was his second six of his moment-grasping 91 not out.

Only twice has a winning captain fully failed in a World Cup final - Clive Lloyd (who had begun these noble traditions in 1975 with a 21st-century-style 85-ball 102, including two sixes), was out for 13 in the 1979 final, and dropped a catch (not entirely accidentally, some have suggested). Kapil Dev only made 15 in 1983, but bowled tightly (1 for 21 off 11 overs) and took two catches, including the famous running over-the-shoulder pouching of the great Viv Richards; and Allan Border made a useful run-a-ball 31 in the final overs of Australia's innings in 1987, then took two wickets, including inducing England captain Mike Gatting to (a) play a reverse sweep, and (b) provoke the largest simultaneous slapping of foreheads in English cricket history.

2. Greatness is not the only thing that is contagious
The "Greatness is Contagious" banners that have adorned World Cup grounds have now been dismantled and sold to doctors' surgeries around AustralioNewZealandia. Hopefully the ten-team format agreed upon for 2019 will help stop the spread of this horrific sporting contagion. But other aspects of cricket can spread quickly too. For example, captains being dismissed bowled in World Cup finals. If McCullum was hoping to make history and break new ground as a batsman in a World Cup final on Sunday, he probably was not hoping it to be as the first captain ever to be bowled in a World Cup final. Clarke became the second, right at the end of the game. Albeit without prompting quite the same reaction of "well that didn't go quite according to plan" from his entire cricketing nation.

3. New Zealand erred in making Australia bowl first
This is not because they allowed Australia's strongest suit to enter the fray as soon as possible, nor because they did not give themselves a chance to challenge their principal weakness until after it was too late, but because when non-Australians face the first ball of a World Cup, they fail. Inevitably.

Why did Martin Guptill miss that ball from Glenn Maxwell? Was it the pressure of the bowling or the pressure of history? The former, most would argue. He had battled through 11 overs of unrelenting high-paced examination. Then, Maxwell came on to provide some palliative care, and bowled him a squeezably juicy long hop. Guptill clobbered it straight the cover fielder. Pressure-relieving opportunity missed. Next ball, a shortish straight one of no particular threat, microspun onto his off stump. What prompted the error? Was it the 32 balls of Starc, Hazlewood and Johnson successfully negotiated, only seven of which he scored from, including just two singles in the last 19 deliveries? Or was it because Guptill knew he was on the verge of history? He was on 15. One more run, and he would have carved his named into statistical immortality. For he would have scored the most runs ever made by a non-Australian who has faced the first ball of a World Cup final.

Australians who have faced the first balls of World Cup finals have scored 75, 74, 57 and 149 (respectively: David Boon 1987, Mark Taylor 1996, Adam Gilchrist 2003 and 2007).

Non-Australians who have faced the first balls of World Cup finals have scored 7 (Roy Fredericks 1975), 9 (Gordon Greenidge 1979), 2 (Sunil Gavaskar 1983), 4 (Aamer Sohail 1992), 15 (Saeed Anwar 1999), and 2 (Upul Tharanga 2011). Guptill had drawn level with Anwar. Then, with the previously untouched glory of facing the first ball of a World Cup final and scoring more than 15 without being Australian beckoning, he cracked.

Admittedly this stat also suggests that putting Australia in would have also been a mistake. As indeed it might have been. The key strategic error New Zealand made was in facing Australia in a cricket World Cup final. That has seldom gone well for anyone in years beginning with 2.

4. It is not only great players who produce their best on the biggest stage
No one would argue that Grant Elliott is a great cricketer. But his pair of 80s in the semi-final and final, both innings of immense value under the utmost pressure, were fit to stand alongside the best batting in the final stages of any World Cup. A little behind Aravinda de Silva's two masterpieces in 1996, but as good and important as anything else, a performance that puts Elliott in the company of several modern cricketing legends.

In the list of most runs scored in the semis and final of a single World Cup, Elliott's total of 167 runs for the final two matches puts him behind only Aravinda (173; 66 in the semi and 107 not out in the final) and top man Viv Richards (180 runs, in 1979, made up of 42 and 138 not out 180 runs). Behind him on the list: Steven Smith (2015), Gooch (1987), Gilchrist (2003), Ponting (2003), Boon (1987), Ganguly (2003), Jayawardene (2007), and Saeed Anwar (1999).

Excluding the still-active Smith, the other nine players ended their careers with a combined total of 204 Test centuries and 142 hundreds in ODIs. Smith has eight and four, and looks certain to add an England-crushingly large number more. Elliott: 86 runs in five Tests at an average of 10. He has a decent ODI record with two centuries, one of them recent, but nothing to suggest he would grasp the tournament bull by its horns, and tell that bull to take a seat in the pavilion and watch him bat. It was a remarkable performance.