Michael Clarke has ended his one-day international career in fairytale fashion, top-scoring with 74 in a seven-wicket thrashing of trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand to claim Australia’s fifth World Cup title at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The victory, achieved off the back off a ruthless performance by the home side’s outstanding fast-bowling group that saw New Zealand bowled out for 183 in 45 overs, cemented Australia’s status as ODI cricket’s pre-eminent nation; no other side has won the sport’s showpiece event more than twice, and this was indeed an exhibition of the home side’s superiority in every facet of the game.
Appearing in their first World Cup final, New Zealand looked lacklustre at times and nervy at others, as they slipped to 3-39 early on before a spectacular late collapse saw their final seven wickets fall for 33 runs.
Mitchell Johnson (3-30), James Faulkner (3-36) and Mitchell Starc (2-20) all claimed multiple wickets, before captain Clarke, Steve Smith (56 not out) and David Warner (45 off 46) completed a thoroughly professional display to see the competition heavyweights home with 16.5 overs to spare.
New Zealand’s semi-final hero Grant Elliott typified the fighting spirit that characterises both nations with a superb 83, but in truth it appeared as if the men in black had played their final five days earlier, when they defeated South Africa in thrilling circumstances in Auckland.
Warner blasted 45 before holing out // Getty Images
Smith watches as the ball rolls onto his stumps // Getty Images
Starc's feats at this tournament can be ranked alongside any of the great World Cup performances, a fact comprehensively borne out in today's first over.
In total, he delivered three full, fast balls to Brendon McCullum, the man who has simultaneously been the symbolic heartbeat and battering ram of this New Zealand side.
McCullum played and missed them all. The third struck timber, and for Michael Clarke's side, metaphorical gold.
Brendon McCullum is bowled for a duck by Mitchell Starc // Getty Images
When Australia stormed to a second straight World Cup title with victory in the 2003 final, it was Glenn McGrath who celebrated a wicket with the fifth ball of the innings.
Then, the man out was Sachin Tendulkar, and with his dismissal went any hope of India chasing down the mammoth 360 they required for World Cup glory.
And though a possible 99.1 overs remained in the day, the effect of McCullum's departure felt very much the same.
The influence of the skipper throughout this tournament cannot be overstated, and from that first wicket onward, Australia bossed the contest with all the confidence that four World Cup titles evidently brings.
Maxwell is mobbed by teammates after bowling Guptill // Getty Images
McCullum's contribution of precisely nought will have been all the more painful for the New Zealander after he called correctly at the toss and opted to make use of what both captains agreed was an excellent batting strip.
That Martin Guptill (15) and Kane Williamson (12) were also back in the pavilion inside the first hour turned a poor start into a disastrous one.
Both will be furious with the manner of their dismissals.
Johnson roars as Williamson is caught-and-bowled // Getty Images
Guptill missed an innocuous Glenn Maxwell delivery – just the second the off-spinner had bowled in an early one-over cameo – and was clean bowled, while Williamson tamely chipped a return catch to Mitchell Johnson.
Like his fellow left-armed Mitch, Johnson was very much up for the occasion, sending his first delivery down in excess of 148kph and barely letting up from there.
With the ball and in the field, the Australians were relentless. And they were brilliant.
Steve Smith flies high but can't grasp a chance // Getty Images
For a lunge chunk of the afternoon though, they met their match in Elliott, the only New Zealander who had made an ODI half-century at the MCG prior to this match.
The 36-year-old showed that experience counts for plenty, joining forces with Ross Taylor (40) as the pair fought desperately to keep their side's title hopes afloat.
And for an extended period, they did exactly that, seeing off a second spell from the ever-dangerous Starc and maintaining an adequate run rate through the middle overs in the process.
The teams exchange some words during a DRS review // Getty Images
Their century stand arrived in the 34th over, from 126 deliveries, and with the score at 3-139, they appeared to have laid a sufficient foundation to launch the obligatory final-overs blitzkrieg.
That was until the wheels spectacularly fell off.
Taylor's dismissal triggered the landslide, a back-of-the-hand slower ball from James Faulkner finding the right-hander's edge as he chased the wider delivery.
It was an extraordinary piece of glovework from Haddin, the 37-year-old who still sets the benchmark for fitness within the Australian squad, the benefits of which have been on show throughout this summer via a series of classic catches.
Two balls later, Faulkner clean bowled Corey Anderson with a yorker that would have made Starc proud, and the rot had officially set in.
Faulkner celebrates bowling Anderson for a duck // Getty Images
Luke Ronchi, returning to these shores to take on the country he once represented, had the opportunity to play a heroic hand, but survived just four balls before nicking Starc through to Clarke at first slip.
In his final ODI innings, Daniel Vettori could manage only nine as Johnson mimicked his fellow quicks with an inswinging yorker of his own to knock over the left-hander.
Losing partners with alarming regularity, Elliott was forced to hit out, and in doing so became a casualty himself, becoming the second New Zealander to fall for the Faulkner slower ball and gifting Haddin another catch.
Grant Elliott salutes his fifty in the World Cup final // Getty Images
With Elliott’s exit went any hope of a 200-plus scoreline, and a Tim Southee (11) six over long on was the final offering of resistance as the innings simply crumbled, the final wicket falling to a sharp direct hit run-out from Maxwell close in.
Johnson celebrates bowling Daniel Vettori // Getty Images
Australia would have been conscious of being on the wrong end of a low-scoring affair against the same opposition only four weeks ago in Auckland, when they were skittled for 151, but tonight such an outcome never seemed likely to materialise.
Though Aaron Finch ended a mixed tournament with a duck to give the Kiwis the early breakthrough they sought, the sight of Smith walking to the middle reassured Australians and caused consternation among New Zealanders in equal measure.
Carrying on the form that has allowed him to dominate all summer, the 25-year-old was rarely troubled in cruising to a fifth-consecutive half-century, although there was one moment of panic when the ball rolled onto his stumps from a deflection off a Matt Henry delivery that ultimately failed to bother the bails.
When Warner was caught from a top-edged hook shot to give Henry a deserved wicket, the score was 2-63 and the stage was perfectly set for Clarke.
As he has done so often, the captain did the business when it mattered most, playing a series of straight, lofted drives that offered every indication he still has much to offer at the highest level, whatever the format.
Warming to the task, he took on the role of aggressor and overtook Smith in the process, before really accelerating with four consecutive boundaries from Southee as the target came within touching distance.
Smith and Clarke put on 112 together // Getty Images
The honour of hitting the winning runs was left to Smith when the skipper chopped on with just nine runs required for victory, but if not Clarke, there can be few more deserved figures than the man destined to succeed him as this country’s captain.
Smith, who joined legendary duo Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting as the only Australians to score five consecutive ODI half-centuries, pulled the winning boundary off his hip through square leg for four to seal Australia’s fourth World Cup title in the past five tournaments and give this team its own place in the annals of cricket history.
Australia: Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steven Smith, Michael Clarke (c), Glenn Maxwell, Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori, Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.