ICC World Cup 2015: Australia stamps its class

Published: Wed, 04/08/2015 - 08:57

Their complete dismantling of New Zealand re-established their supremacy in one-day cricket, which had appeared to be slipping in recent years

Sandeep Kumar Delhi 

February 20, 2015. ICC World Cup 2015, Match no. 20, Eden Park, Auckland: Australia’s hopes of winning the World Cup looked slim indeed halfway through the team’s first away game against co-hosts New Zealand. Bowled out for an embarrassing total of 150, the Aussies faced a seemingly indomitable Brendon McCullum when the Kiwis came out to bat. But Australian pace bowler Mitchell Starc was not ready to throw in the towel. He bowled his heart out and almost pulled a win from the jaws of defeat. Finally, New Zealand won by one wicket.

Despite the spirited comeback, with one win, one loss and a washout, the Australians had an early exit from the tournament staring at them. Instead, they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to hoist the Cup on March 29—just as they have many times before—eventually playing so well that the rematch against New Zealand in the final turned out to be a ridiculous and boring farce.

Appearing in their seventh World Cup final, the Aussies delivered yet another ruthless and professional performance, and in a span of a few hours, were crowned world champions for the fifth time.

Though India outperformed them four years ago, no one should have been surprised.

Ever since the Australians won their first World Cup at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in 1987, they have never looked back. They made the finals of four consecutive World Cups from 1996 to 2007, and most of the time they have made winning look easy.

Their complete dismantling of New Zealand re-established their supremacy in one-day cricket, which had appeared to be slipping in recent years.   

In the recent tri-series in Australia, they beat India and England convincingly, but the team still looked rusty, unsure and less than fit.

Captain Michael Clarke was nursing a back injury and was ruled out for the first two matches. All-rounder James Faulkner was also ruled out by strained side muscles. Shane Watson was in the worst form of his life, stand-in skipper George Bailey was in good form, but he was not even assured of his place in the starting eleven. The team also did not have a front-line spinner and Glenn Maxwell was to fill in the slow bowler spot.

Being the home team had its advantages, but it added tons of extra pressure on the players to perform and win the Cup in front of their fans. The only man who was calm and knew ways to sort out the crisis was head coach Darren Lehmann.

He took over the side at a difficult time when the fortunes were at low ebb. The team was yet to recover from the topsy-turvy tenure of coach Tim Nielsen, under whose charge they failed to defend their World Cup reign in 2011. The Aussie team was further jolted by a much-hyped controversial term with coach Micky Arthur at
the helm.

The team had been dragged to new lows, both on and off the field. From this standpoint Lehmann played a decisive factor in turning fortunes around for the Aussies. 

He revived the old Aussie spirit, reminiscent of Australia’s successful coach, John Buchanan. He did not come to the front, but allowed the captain to take full command of the team and also allowed the players to be expressive on the field.

In his first appointment Australia lost the Ashes Test series 3-0. But Lehmann went on to coach the side to a 5-0 victory in the 2013-14 series just five months after the earlier whitewash.

Lehmann has picked the right players to fill the void in the middle order, which was one of the major concerns for the team in the 2013 Champions Trophy, after the retirement of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. The transformation of Steve Smith from a part-time spinner to being their main batting star was one of the outcomes of Lehmann’s sharp tactics.

In the World Cup, Smith was promoted to the number three spot and out-of-form Watson was left out and then again brought back at number six, which worked wonders for Australia.

Lehmann had been nurturing and working on this young side for two years to put up a strong and balanced squad.

Full credit can be given to him for making the Australian pace bowling attack a powerhouse. It was due to his timely and effective rotational programme that all Australian pacers were in excellent health before the World Cup. He never hesitated in sitting out Jose Hazlewood, Pat Cummins or even Starc even in the crucial matches – both in the World Cup and in the tri-series before it.

Lehmann himself had scored the winning runs for Australia in the 1999 World Cup final against Pakistan at Lord’s, and was also part of the 2003 winning team, so he was the best person in the squad to overcome the crucial knockout matches. It was due to his calm presence in the dressing room that the Aussies looked ruthless and fearless in the knockouts.

They attacked, sledged and took opponents by surprise. They laughed, juggled, mocked and taunted when opponents tried sledging—giving the fans a true idea of the
Australian attitude.

Though they had a couple of nervy moments against Pakistan in the quarterfinals—which featured fierce combat between fast bowler Wahab Riaz and Watson—the Kangaroos managed to chase down the total of 213 with 15 overs to spare. Against India in the semis, Lehmann had predicted a high-scoring run-feast and the batsmen lived up to the coach’s expectations as they piled up 300-plus runs to take the match away from the
defending champions.  

“From the time that Lehmann took over, the team has become a real family again,” says Geoff Marsh, former Australia opener and coach.

Now, yet another experienced duo of Clarke and Brad Haddin have announced retirement and quit the team. The main task for Lehmann is to fill those new gaps.  

But the coach could also work on making the team more gracious when they beat other teams. Their conduct during the finals would not serve as an example of good behaviour for budding cricketers. 

Box:

THE KEY CONTRIBUTORS:

Mitchell Starc: Michael Clarke labelled him a ‘true genius’, and indeed Starc turned out to be a tormentor with his fiery swing bowling and accurate yorkers throughout the tournament. With an economy of 2.80 and an average of 14, he took 22 wickets in eight matches to win the Player of the Series award. 

Steven smith: On home soil in the World Cup, Smith finished as the tournament’s leading run-scorer for Australia. He played an anchoring role for both Watson and returning-from-injury Clarke. He never threw away his wicket and scored 402 runs with an average of 67 in eight matches. His match-winning century against India in the semi-final was flawless. 

Glenn Maxwell: Maxwell turned out to be the gamechanger for Australia, whenever he walked onto the crease. The way the right-hander plays his shots is a thing of beauty. His slog shots, reverse sweeps, tennis-ball hook and his ability to hammer sixes at will, turned the game to their favour. Maxi scored 324 runs with an average of 64.80 and a whopping strike rate of 182.02

 

This story is from print issue of HardNews