A man, a plan, a yorker: Starc's iconic Cup moment
Five years on, the key Aussies involved look back at the plot they hatched to dismiss Brendon McCullum in the World Cup final
28 March 2020, 12:10 PM AEST
Steve Smith could sense it coming, James Faulkner was stunned when it did, Josh Hazlewood was extremely relieved and Michael Clarke knew Australia had one hand on the 2015 World Cup once Mitchell Starc bowled New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum in the first over of the final.
Starc's dismissal of McCullum, a signature yorker that crashed into off-stump, caused an explosion of sound inside the heaving Melbourne Cricket Ground as a majority of the 93,013 in attendance stood to applaud what instantly became one of the most iconic moments in World Cup history.
The wicket of McCullum was no fluke. Australia, like most teams during the tournament, had felt the wrath of the Kiwi captain who was in breathtaking form at the top of the order.
In the thrilling group stage clash at Eden Park, McCullum blazed 50 from 24 balls in pursuit of a paltry target of 152, with 42 of his runs coming in boundaries on the postage stamp-sized ground.
Starc's remarkable 6-28 dragged Australia within one wicket of an unthinkable comeback victory only for Kane Williamson to keep his cool and secure the victory by the narrowest of margins.
But one of the big takeaways from that match, besides a kick up the backside for the perhaps over-confident Australians, was how McCullum attacked the new ball inside the powerplay overs.
It stuck with Clarke, who devised a plan to remove his dangerous Kiwi counterpart.
"I watched a lot of how teams bowled to him, so I had a conversation with the bowlers group about what I felt our plans needed to be," Clarke told cricket.com.au.
"It was a bit different to how we usually attack in white-ball cricket. I mentioned how other bowlers had tried to attack the stumps, tried to follow him with short stuff, tried to mix their lengths up, but he was in great form.
"I said, 'When you think of the last five overs of the game when guys are trying to hit us out of the park, what's our go-to ball?'. Everyone said, 'the yorker'.
"So I said, 'To Brendon McCullum, no matter how long he bats for, that's our plan. We're bowling like it's at the death of the game'.
"That's easier said than done because you've got a brand new ball, hard seam, the ball swings so it's not as easy to control. It's OK to have a plan, which everyone supported, it was about execution.
"Thankfully, we had a bowler who could bowl 150kph and he could execute that yorker as good as anyone in the world in Mitchell Starc."
Clarke was not alone in the Australian setup believing bowling yorkers to McCullum was the way to go at the start of the innings.
As the Australia captain unveiled his strategy, Starc and bowling coach Craig McDermott shared a glance and a smirk, having earlier formulated the same tactic.
It did not take long to see whether the plan would work after New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat first in the final.
Martin Guptill faced the first ball from Starc and guided the left-armer's second delivery down to third man to bring McCullum on strike and activate Australia's new approach to the swashbuckling right-hander.
Starc was on song from his first ball to McCullum, firing down a yorker that curved back from off to leg past the opener's loose drive and narrowly evaded the off-stump.
Clarke, at second slip, threw up his hands in disbelief before encouraging his spearhead to go again.
If the Australia captain was mystified by how the first ball missed, he flat out could not believe how Starc's second yorker missed the woodwork.
McCullum charged Starc's second ball to him but got nowhere near another rapid inswinging delivery that hooped past the advancing batter and his leg stump.
Such fortune may have emboldened McCullum and dented the hosts' confidence, but the wild strokeplay from the Kiwi skipper had Smith's spider senses buzzing.
"I was at backward point," Smith recalled to cricket.com.au. "There was one that went close and I just had a feeling, I thought, 'Jeez he's going to get him out here'.
"Dave Warner might have been next to me as well and we said to each other, 'There's going to be a wicket here. You watch'."
Sure enough, Smith's gut feel was spot on as Starc stuck to the script and delivered the knockout blow – another inswinging yorker that beat bat and clattered into the base of the off-stump.
As Starc took off in wild celebration, Smith remembers the thunderous roar of the crowd.
"It was as loud a stadium as I've heard in Australia," Smith said. "There might have been a few louder in India but in Australia that's as loud as I've heard a crowd go.
"The boys were pretty pumped up after that."
Starc bolted towards fine leg where he was intercepted by James Faulkner, who found himself in unfamiliar territory but recognised the eruption from another classic moment at the MCG.
"I don't know what I was doing at fine leg – I hadn't been at fine leg for the first over of a game for my whole career!" Faulkner told cricket.com.au.
"'Johno' (Mitchell Johnson) was normally down there. But I think he wanted to be in the ring for some reason.
"When (Starc) knocked him over … it was only a split-second but it felt like a 10-second delay before the crowd noise kicked in.
"I've never heard anything like it, other than maybe when Warney took his 700th Test wicket and I was a kid in the stands. It was just so loud.
"I don't think anyone believed we had knocked him over so early, given how much he'd hurt us in previous games. It was great to get him straight up."
Second to Starc as the happiest player on the field was perhaps Hazlewood, who was not looking forward to bowling to the red-hot McCullum.
But when his new-ball partner took care of that worry, Hazlewood relaxed and joined in the banter with the parochial crowd.
"I was at third man and there was about five Kiwis behind me just giving it to me for the first couple of minutes," Hazlewood told cricket.com.au.
"Then comes the fifth ball and Starcy knocks McCullum over and takes off towards fine leg, runs past the keeper and slips giving high fives and I didn't have to run too far to catch him.
"I was really happy because it meant I didn't have to bowl at McCullum at all that whole game.
"The form he was in, he was only getting sixties and seventies but the rate he was getting them at was ridiculous.
"I remember after the wicket walking back down to third man and asked, 'Where'd those five Kiwi blokes go?'.
"They must have thought it was over too because they had left!"
Starc can't help but smile when he remembers the magic moment.
"To execute a plan, pretty much perfectly, to bowl Brendon in a World Cup final was something I'm pretty proud of," Starc told Direct Hit.
"The noise was deafening. If you ask Josh Hazlewood, I think I met him down at fine leg when I was carrying on. He puts a bit of mayo on that story over the last few years – I thought I was at the circle, kinda halfway, but he reckons I was down at fine leg.
"There was a lot of carry on from everyone. It was a World Cup final, it was special."
Australia would stampede to victory, bowling New Zealand out for 183 and chasing the runs inside 34 overs with seven wickets in hand.
But Clarke knew, when Starc removed McCullum, a fifth World Cup title was almost theirs.
"In cricket, one wicket doesn't win or lose you a game but there was certainly a feeling with the way (McCulum) was playing and the impact he was having on the tournament, if we could him out we were halfway there to winning," he said.
"When you set a plan because you've done the study, done the work, you've looked at the reasons why it was going to work and then you have a player in your team that can execute that and it does come off, that's a dream come true as a captain."