World Cup final: Summer tragedy ends in triumph for Clarke
A SUMMER that started with the tragic death of batsmen Phil Hughes, has ended in triumph as his former team-mates overcame New Zealand at the MCG to win Australia's fifth World Cup, and fourth in the last five tournaments.
After announcing his retirement from one-day matches on Saturday, it was fitting that skipper Michael Clarke, the recipient of well-deserved praise for the way he led the tributes to his good mate Hughes, led with the bat.
Clarke top scored with a brilliant 74, pointing his bat skyward as he walked off to a standing ovation from the world record ODI crowd of 93,013.
Clarke, who recovered from hamstring surgery late last year just in time to take his place in the team, said , "I couldn't have asked for anything more - we played really well tonight", after his team cruised to a seven-wicket victory.
Asked about the loss of Hughes, the skipper, who again wore a black armband during the match in memory of his fallen mate, said: "It's been a really tough few months - we played this World Cup with 16 players."
Much to the disappointment of the Kiwi fans in the crowd, and those watching around the world, New Zealand's inning never really got off the ground.
Skipper Brendon McCullum was back in the pavilion after facing just three balls from left-armer Mitchell Starc, none of which he made contact with.
Rather than try to play himself in before unleashing his trademark aggressive strokeplay, McCullum tried to hit Starc out of the ground from the very first ball, quickly paying the price for the rash and ill-thought-out strategy.
Three strokes of madness by McCullum were followed by a stroke of genius by the Aussie skipper in the 12th over, bringing on part-time spinner Glenn Maxwell.
Perhaps filled with relief after struggling to 15 off 34 balls, opener Martin Guptill misjudged Maxwell's second delivery and was clean bowled.
Fiery spearhead Mitch Johnson then joined the party removing the out-of-form Kane Williamson for just 12 to have the Black Caps reeling at 3-39.
A partnership of substance was desperately needed, and Ross Taylor and South African-born Grant Elliott, the only player in the New Zealand line-up to have scored an ODI half-century at the ground, stepped up.
They took the total to 150 before James Faulkner made his mark on the contest, removing Taylor for 40. The Tasmanian also removed Elliott for 83 and hard-hitting all-rounder Corey Anderson for a duck.
From being in a reasonable position at 3-150, the Kiwis lost 7-33 to finish on 183 from just 45 overs, well short of a defendable total against Australia's world class line-up.
Faulkner, who recovered from a side strain just prior to the tournament to play a crucial role in Australia's campaign, finished with 3-34, while Johnson grabbed 3-30 and Starc 2-20.
The wicket of opener Aaron Finch for nought in the second over provided a glimmer of hope, but a quickfire 45 off 46 balls from David Warner set the stage for Clarke and Smith to produce their match-wining partnership of 112.
Smith, set to take over the captaincy from Clarke, had the honour of hitting the winning runs to finish unbeaten on 56, capping a stunning summer that must have seemed so far away when his good mate was felled four months ago.
WORLD CUP FINAL
Australia v New Zealand
At the MCG
M Guptill b Maxwell515
B McCullum b Starc50
K Williamson c&b Johnson512
R Taylor c Haddin b Faulkner540
G Elliott c Haddin b Faulkner583
C Anderson b Faulkner50
L Ronchi c Clarke b Starc50
D Vettori b Johnson59
T Southee run out59
M Henry c Starc b Johnson50
T Boult not out50
FOW: 1, 33, 39, 150, 150, 151, 167, 171, 182, 183.
Bowling: M Starc 8-0-20-2, J Hazlewood 8-2-30-0, M Johnson 9-0-30-3, G Maxwell, 7-0-37-1, J Faulkner 9-1-36-3, S Watson 4-0-23-0.
D Warner c Elliott b Henry545
A Finch c&b Boult50
S Smith not out556
M Clarke b Henry574
S Watson not out52
Total: three wickets for5186
FOW: 2, 63, 175
Bowling: T Southee 8-0-65-0, T Boult 10-0-40-1, D Vettori 5-0-25-0, M Henry 9-1-0-46-2, C Anderson 1-0-7-0