Finally, after 49 games and six weeks, the World Cup is over.
And Australia were the deserving winners, beating New Zealand by 7 wickets in the final. Disappointingly for the neutral it was a one-sided affair, with NZ failing to post a big total in the face of some hostile swing bowling from Starc and Johnson.
It was key that the Kiwi’s got off to a good start but this was derailed in the first over when McCullum was bowled by a perfect Starc yorker. I was watching on TV and the roar that accompanied the wicket was as loud as anything I’ve ever heard on a cricket field. An enthralling start, but the game never reached those early heights as NZ seemed starstruck by the occasion and, apart from a defiant innings from Grant Elliott, failed to post any healthy scores.
It was left to outgoing captain Michael Clarke to get Australia close to the line after Finch’s early wicket made things interesting. Clarke’s 74 at better than a run a ball saw them to the brink of victory and it was left to Steve Smith to hit the winning runs.
A lot has been said about Clarke and as a player and captain he has been exceptional. I have to say I don’t think much of this victory can be down to him, his lengthy spells out of the side left the hard preparation work to others, and most of the seeds for success were sown before the tournament began. Will be missed on the field mind you, a classical batsman who has led the Aussies with style and aggression.
One other sour point for me was some of the sledging, particularly from Brad Haddin. His scream in the face of Martin Guptill after his wicket was pretty unsavoury, as was Faulkner’s send-off of Elliott. Haddin’s excuse that New Zealand had been ‘too nice’ in their previous meetings was a bit of a cop-out too. In all honesty on hearing that Haddin too had retired after the game I wasn’t too displeased.
New Zealand ran out of steam in this game but surely had the pick of the players of the tournament. McCullum changed games with his explosive hitting, Trent Boult was the joint leading wicket taker with Starc and Vettori rolled back the years one last time. The aforementioned Elliott was the surprise package for me, coming into the side late before the tournament and playing with such calmness throughout. His 6 to win the semi-final against South Africa was probably the shot of the tournament in its best game, an absolute thriller that went down to the last 2 balls. The Saffers were unlucky to be denied a score of 350+ by the rain but take nothing away from NZ, they chased fearlessly and never let the run rate knock their confidence. The enduring scenes of sportsmanship as the players consoled each other at the finish is what cricket should be about, rather than some of the unnecessary stuff that we saw in the final.
On South Africa, lots of talk of ‘choking’ again after their defeat, which was nonsense. They gave their all in the semi-final and left everything on the field, which is all you can ask. A couple of fielding mishaps cost dearly, particularly a mix-up between Duminy and Behaardien at the death which proved crucial. So near and yet so far for them again.
India were blown away by the Aussies in the other semi, losing by 95 runs. Yet another big score from Smith backed up by Finch saw Australia post 328, which proved too much for India. Although the latter had a better tournament than I expected you never felt they could go all the way, their much improved bowling attack not quite up to the standard of the finalists. With Kohli at the helm for the next few years they will no doubt continue to improve.
So, some quick shotgun thoughts. Tournament was too long. Associates were great. Scoring reached new levels, with 350 now looking like a par score. Double hundreds more common too. But quick fast bowling still has its place, as the finalists showed. Oh, and England are so far off the pace in ODIs it’s embarrassing. Four years to put that right…