TELFORD VICE, Melbourne
FOR this SA were denied a place in the World Cup final? For this New Zealand’s fine team held their nerve in the hurricane of emotion that tore through the Eden Park semi-final? For this Australia prepared themselves as if for war?
The Aussies pitched up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday to play the match of their lives. It was, after all, Michael Clarke’s last one-day international.
And a crowd of 93 013 give him the send-off he has earned as Australia clinched their fifth World Cup title with a seven-wicket win that looked effortless but was not, even though 101 deliveries were unspent in winning it.
The Kiwis left their A game on the wrong side of the Tasman. Had they played against SA in Auckland on Tuesday like they did on Sunday, AB de Villiers would have been walking to the middle with Clarke come toss time for the final.
But would SA have beaten the Aussies on Sunday? No. The only time in the tournament Clarke’s men have made significant errors was in their loss to New Zealand, which they suffered a month ago. SA played something close to the perfect game in their quarter-final against Sri Lanka. But that was their only performance that did not raise concerns.
On Sunday, Australia refused to open the door to New Zealand, who refused to knock. This was close to a no contest as a cricket match should be allowed to get. Were it a boxing match, the referee would have awarded it to the Aussies in the first round because the Kiwis declined to throw a punch.
Even so, Grant Elliott became only the fifth player to score half-centuries in the semi-final and final of the same World Cup. Unhappily for New Zealand, Elliott and Mike Brearley – who did this double in 1979 – are the only two who have not been part of the champion team.
Elliott’s 84 not out against SA was a thing of calm beauty, an innings composed more than it was played. His 83 on Sunday was defiance on legs, but it was never going to be enough to deny an Australian team who could not have dissected their opponents more skillfully and precisely had they used a scalpel.
The glint of the Aussies’ cold steel was never more apparent than when Glenn Maxwell ended New Zealand’s innings with a lightening throw from short leg that shattered the stumps with non-striker Tim Southee’s foot over the crease but not grounded at the crucial instant.
By then Brendon McCullum had neither mastered nor blasted. Instead, he had played over and around a fullish inswinger from Mitchell Starc and been bowled. Martin Guptill’s stumps had been nailed when he played back to a Maxwell off-break. Kane Williamson had popped a simple return catch to Mitchell Johnson. Brad Haddin had dived to pluck from the air – and just off the ground – the dipping edge James Faulkner had induced from Ross Taylor. Elliott had steered Faulkner’s back-of-the-hand slower ball to Haddin.
By then it was all over bar Australia’s chase of a nominal target of 184. Clarke scored his second half-century of the tournament, a sturdy 74, and shared a century stand with Steve Smith.
Clarke chopped on to Matt Henry with just nine runs required, then departed to a blaze of flashbulbs and a long roar of appreciation. He has not always been his compatriots’ favourite, but this changes everything.