'Belief never left' for one of Australia's greatest attacks

Adam Zampa and Australia's pace trio thrived in a 'sudden death' environment to prove five weeks is a long time in world cricket

Raw vision: Aussie players react to 'emotional' World Cup win

"Zero-two and 0-120 (against Sri Lanka) was a long time ago."

The words of fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood after Australia silenced 92,543 partisan crowd at Narendra Modi Stadium couldn't be a truer reflection of their extraordinary turnaround to win the nation's sixth ODI World Cup title.

On statistics alone, it's hard to believe that was part of the same tournament they just won.

Thumped by South Africa to the tune of 134 runs – Australia's heaviest defeat at a men's 50-over World Cup – they had started the tournament with two heavy losses and Sri Lanka's first wicket pairing of Kusal Perera and Pathum Nissanka inflicted more pain as they raced to 125 without loss in their third match.

Adam Zampa and Josh Inglis run onto the field after Australia clinched the World Cup // Getty

At that point, only Sri Lanka had a higher strike rate (65.6) and average (80.44) with the ball than Australia's 61.5 and 56 respectively 11 days into the tournament.

Australia's dot ball percentage was also second worst to – you guessed it – Sri Lanka, and only Sri Lanka (3) had taken fewer wickets in the middle overs (11-40) than Australia's four.

With the bat, Australia was faring even worse. Their collective average (18.80), strike rate (69.1) dot ball percentage (61.6), balls per boundary (14.7) was the worst of the 10 teams, as was their catching percentage at a lowly 57.1 with six drops.

Seemingly, this was a clash between the tournament's two worst sides and Australia was losing.

Fast-forward five weeks, after Australia romped to a six-wicket title-clinching victory to break India's hearts, having flipped those metrics on their head.

'That's the pinnacle': Cummins on World Cup final triumph

And it started with the ball.

Sri Lanka lost 10-84 from then on to crash to 209 all out, and by the end of the tournament only India (28.1) and South Africa (29.1) had a better bowling strike rate than Australia's 34.8.

It was likewise with their collective bowling average – Australia 30.67 compared to South Africa's 24.81 and India's 21.66. And middle overs wickets – Australia 42 compared to South Africa's 47 and India's 51.

Skipper delivers as Cummins, Zampa halt Sri Lankan charge

Australia's bowlers saved their best until last, with Hazlewood describing the final as their "perfect game", rolling India's powerful batting unit – the only side to average more than 50 runs per wicket during the tournament (54.48) – for 240 to set up a remarkable triumph and etch themselves into World Cup greatness.

Adam Zampa, who took four Sri Lanka wickets that day, four against Pakistan, four against the Netherlands, and three each against New Zealand and England in their next four games, has been the nation's leading bowler in the past two men's World Cup titles after taking 13 in the 2021 T20 World Cup.

He now sits alongside the legendary Muthiah Muralidaran as the spinner with the most wickets in a single edition of the 50-over tournament (23).

And only Muralidaran (68) and Glenn McGrath (71) have taken more World Cup wickets than Starc's 65, who enhanced his reputation as one of the best to ever wield the white Kookaburra, finishing the tournament with 16 wickets, including three each in the semi-final and final.

Hazlewood (16 wickets) and Pat Cummins (15) also finished with personal best World Cup campaigns, and Cummins' tactical manoeuvring in the latter stages of the campaign will go down as some of the finest captaincy by an Aussie skipper.

"It almost became sudden death really," Cummins said of the Sri Lanka game after arriving back in Australia on Wednesday morning.

"We thought we pretty much had to be flawless from then on to make the semis and we pretty much were.

"We started to find ways to win even when we weren't having our best day.

"The belief never left, even at the start, we knew we hadn't played our best but knew once we clicked, we could take on anyone and it proved to be the case."

As for the next target for Australia's all-conquering bowling unit? Well, there's another T20 World Cup in the United States and Caribbean on the horizon next June, and you'd be brave to bet against them no matter the conditions.

And despite the 'big three' of Cummins (22 matches), Starc and Hazlewood (both 21 matches) having played most of Australia's 11 Tests and 22 ODIs this year, including every one of Australia's 11 World Cup matches for Cummins and Hazlewood (and 10 for Starc), there's little time for rest with the men's home summer to get underway at Perth Stadium in 22 days' time.

"Honestly, I've not thought any further than this," Cummins said. "We'll savour this for a long time.

"The home summer's always huge so we've got a couple for weeks to regroup and we'll get together in Perth – the majority of the ODI team is the same as the Test team, so it will be good to go and see everyone again in a couple of weeks.

"But we'll keep savouring this for a little while."

2023 ODI World Cup Finals

First semi-final: India beat New Zealand by 70 runs

Second semi-final: Australia beat South Africa by three wickets

Final: Australia beat India by six wickets