From injury ward to top of the world: Faulkner's World Cup
Player of the match in the 2015 World Cup final, James Faulkner reflects on his rollercoaster campaign and his nerves on match day
27 March 2020, 10:15 AM AEST
There was a time when James Faulkner was the most feared finisher in the limited-overs game, with an iron will and ice-cold temperament seemingly impervious to extreme pressure.
It was exactly why, when he suffered a side strain on the eve of the 2015 World Cup, Australia were more than happy to effectively be a player short as they nursed him back to fitness through the opening month of the tournament instead of calling for a fully-fit replacement.
He repaid that faith in spades in the later stages of the tournament, with overs that tightened the noose as he deployed his arsenal of cutters and back-of-the-hand slower balls.
The crowning glory was player of the match honours in the World Cup final. After Mitchell Starc's first-over missile to Brendon McCullum, Faulkner orchestrated a Kiwi collapse that saw New Zealand lose their last six wickets for just 33 runs.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the 2015 World Cup triumph in front of 93,013 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Faulkner recalled some of his fondest memories of that campaign, which began with one of his lowest moments.
"It was the last scheduled ODI before start of World Cup, playing England at the WACA, and I did my side," Faulkner recalled this week. "I was racing against the clock. They could have easily left me out of the World Cup squad.
"But they were very good to me, Boof (head coach Darren Lehmann), the medical staff and selectors said they'd give me every opportunity.
"The first couple of days, I was just in bed or lying on the couch with the ice machine on 24/7, then it was just rehab, rehab, rehab.
"I spent a lot of time with Alex Kountouris (the team's physiotherapist) and Michael Clarke, who was coming back from his hamstring injury.
"At times it felt like Pup and I were in isolation. The boys were all going out to restaurants, having a couple of beers in the long breaks between games, but we were just doing our rehab, trying to get back."
Clarke returned two games into the tournament, for the famous Eden Park clash with New Zealand but Faulkner, who had passed a fitness test ahead of that game, was held back.
After a long-distance flight to Perth, he was cleared to play against Afghanistan, coming into the side for Shane Watson, who was rested after a string of low scores.
"I was only going to bowl five overs, ended up bowling four," Faulkner recalls. "But it's hard to hold yourself back, so I was back into it flat-stick.
"The next game (against Sri Lanka in Sydney) was a big game personally, to give me the confidence that I could get through my 10 overs."
Faulkner finished the match with 3-48 from nine overs, including the key wicket of Kumar Sangakkara, before Australia faced Scotland in Hobart, where he and David Warner launched a blitz of 41 runs in 14 balls to secure the win before the heavens opened.
Pakistan awaited them in an Adelaide quarter-final, and Faulkner recalled being padded up watching Wahab Riaz breathe fire at Shane Watson.
"It was like musical chairs in the changeroom, with (Glenn) Maxwell and (Brad) Haddin, they're up and down like yo-yos, can't sit still. I had the pads on as well and, yeah, it was an unbelievable spell of fast bowling," Faulkner says of the nervous energy in the rooms.
"He should have had Watto, really, with the dropped catch at fine leg. It was so close in that period.
"The feeling was, 'We've just got to get through this spell then we'll be fine' but it was a real rocky road to get through it. He just kept coming harder and harder and harder."
After Watson and Steve Smith rode out Wahab to chase down Pakistan's 213 for a six-wicket win, a date with India loomed in an SCG semi-final blockbuster.
A century to Smith and blistering late cameos by Faulkner and Mitch Johnson helped Australia to 7-328.
"We'd had a lot of good battles with India in the past few years so there was a hell of a lot of nerves before that game," Faulkner recalled. "We just burst out of the blocks, but you can never relax against India, we knew they'd come hard in the run chase.
"Shikhar Dhwan got after me for a few early, I had 29 runs taken off my first two overs.
"You look at that bowling line up – you've got Mitch Johnson, Mitch Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Patty Cummins – and then me. They're always going to try and take down the medium pacer!
"They went really hard and I had to hold my nerve, knowing I was going to have to come back on and bowl another eight overs after that.
"It's not rocket science really, you just have to try and limit the damage as much as you can."
Australia responded as Hazlewood removed Dhawan and Johnson accounted for Virat Kohli cheaply. Faulkner responded to his earlier drubbing to collect the wicket of Suresh Raina, but India remained in the hunt.
"None of us were too confident until Maxi ran out Dhoni. That was the final straw for us."
Faulkner capitalised, bowling both Ravi Ashwin and Mohit Sharma with successive deliveries the next over to put himself on a hat-trick as Clarke stacked the slips cordon.
"I bowled a bloody full toss for the hat-trick ball," Faulkner laments ruefully.
"But it was a good position to be in, we knew the game was over pretty much and there was a lot of relief around."
A 95-run win in the bag, Australia headed to Melbourne for their trans-Tasman showdown with New Zealand in the final.
"It wasn't until the day of the final that I really felt the occasion," Faulkner recalls.
"I went to breakfast with my family down at Southbank. We probably only waited about 20 minutes for our food but it felt like an hour and a half. I ended up leaving them there, I just wanted to get out of there and away from it all.
“All the supporters were out eating breakfast at the same time before walking to the ground. There was a lot of nerves.
"And you started to notice there were a lot of little things that were different. Like the trip to the ground was different. The bus took a longer route – about an extra 25 minutes, which was quite different, knowing the MCG was just a few (kms) away from where we were staying.
"Boof and Pup had just kept drumming the same message into us: We're a bloody good cricket team. Just keep backing and believing in yourselves and we'll get the job done. Don't go away from those processes and our KPIs we had on the board. Keep doing it over and over again.”
Mitchell Starc inspired an early collapse that left the Black Caps three down in the 13th over, but they regrouped as Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott put on 111 in the next 23 overs.
The 36th over brought with it the batting powerplay, and an immediate recall for Faulkner, with game-changing impact.
"I knew it was coming, we all knew the structure," he recalls.
"Taylor was starting to be a bit more aggressive, but it was just a gut feel to start with a slower ball. It didn't come out where I wanted it at all. I was trying to get it slow and wide but not as full as that."
Taylor jammed down on the delivery, Haddin snared a diving catch, and the batsman departed for 40 with the crucial partnership broken.
But Faulkner wasn't finished and two balls later he castled Corey Anderson, even if he'd gone slightly off script once again.
"The plan for Anderson was 'don't bowl full to him, especially early'. I don't know what happened. I just had a rush of blood and wanted to knock his pegs over or blow his foot off.
"The crowd was up and about and the adrenaline was pumping. I thought, 'Stuff it, I'm going to have a crack here'.
"It went away from what our plan was, but I dunno, those things can happen. It was going to be for just one ball, and it worked out, thank God!"
Faulkner's pace-off slower ball had been just 112kph, but Anderson was beaten by a rocket at 133kph.
With his tail up, the left-armer took at aim at the last major threat Australia faced in Elliott.
"I remember it was on for young and old between me and Grant Elliott, and the rest of the boys were into him as well," Faulkner says.
"We tried to target a couple of them, just trying to unsettle them. But it didn't work with Elliott, it went the other way, got him going. He played a superb knock for them, got them into the game.
"At that stage (the 42nd over), knowing the dynamics of the ground, he was definitely trying to line me up so I was just trying to take all the pace off. It was either going to be six or out.
"He threw the kitchen sink at it and that was the end of him. (I) gave him a little bit of a send-off … yeah, definitely did. But I've spoken to him since then, we've shared a couple of beers. That's the nature of all the T20 comps around the world."
From Faulkner's first wicket, the Black Caps lost 6-33 to be bowled out for 183, leaving Australia in sight of a fifth World Cup title.
"Everyone was definitely a lot more nervous than other games. I stayed in the dining room a fair bit, a lot longer than usual. I didn't really want to watch the start of the game," Faulkner says.
"Then when Finchy got out (early) it sent a little bit of shockwave through the group. 'Oh shit, is this like Auckland again?' But once Pup got going, we ended up doing it easily.
"I was padded up but quickly ripped everything off when we needed two (to win). The look on everyone's face when Smithy hit those winning runs, I've never felt anything like that. Unreal."
Amid the joyous celebrations, Faulkner received a tap on the shoulder. His 3-36 had earned him membership of a very select club – player of the match in a World Cup final.
"I got told just a few minutes before the presentation, so had to quickly think of something to say for the interview. But winning the World Cup was ten times better than winning player of the match.
"When we received the trophy and Pup lifted it up on stage: unreal, awesome. The walk around the ground as well, seeing friends and family, I was seeing people who'd bought tickets I hadn't seen for years, it was surreal.
"I wish I could do that part again, it went too quick. I sort of just wanted to get around because I knew my family … were to the left. But we went the other way (on the lap of honour), so I knew they'd be there at the end.
"I don't see too many of the other blokes from that squad too much (now), but when we do it's just like old times. Once you've had success like that with a group, you're going to be close, a tight unit forever.
"The 10-year reunion will be a good one. I'm looking forward to that one!"