AUSTRALIA are World Cup champions for a fifth time, after the most dominant force in cricket returned to the pinnacle in emphatic style with a forensic demolition of New Zealand at the MCG.
Following last summer’s Ashes whitewash, the seven-wicket victory marks the latest history-making achievement for Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke’s side, as the retiring skipper bowed out on a memorable high with a magical 74 off 72 balls.
Steve Smith, the run-machine, iced his Bradman-like summer with an unbeaten 56 and the glory of hitting the winning runs.
With Australia 120 from home, it was fitting that Clarke would walk out to the ODI crease one last time to join who else but his heir to his throne, Smith in front of an all-time record 93,013 cricket fans at Melbourne’s coliseum.
Michael Clarke signed off in style at the MCG. Picture: Colleen Petch.Source: News Corp Australia
The old master and the new star combined at the crease for a match-clinching 112-run partnership, as Australia chased down a small-fry target of 184 with 101 balls to spare.
It was a glorious sliding doors moment for an Australian team that under Smith are every chance of creating another World Cup dynasty in four years time.
The script didn’t go entirely to plan, Clarke was bowled with Australia nine runs from the finish line, but he walked off to a handshake from Brendon McCullum and to a standing ovation with his bat raised high.
Smith finished off in style with a fifth consecutive score of 50 or more, and leapt into the arms of veteran Shane Watson – who may have also played his last ODI.
Since the opening night of this 44-day campaign, more than one million fans have flooded through the gates on both sides of the Tasman, and all along the Darren Lehmann-coached side have loomed large as an unstoppable powerhouse.
Despite an early hiccup against the Black Caps in Auckland, world order was restored on Sunday night, as a relentless bowling attack spearheaded an unrivalled fifth Cup win, but the first since 2007.
Steve Smith celebrates with Shane Watson after hitting the winning runs. Picture: Phil Hillyard.Source: News Corp Australia
The most dominant force all tournament Mitchell Starc stood up at the vital time to dismiss New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum in the opening over of the game.
It was a gripping moment that lifted the roof off a capacity MCG crowd and sparked a crippling Black Caps collapse, as the outclassed underdogs folded to be all out in the 45th over.
Starc put the icing on a career-defining six weeks by extending his wicket-taking tally to a joint-high 22, which has come at an extraordinary average of 10.18.
The 25-year-old was inspirational, but left-armed comrades Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner tore the heart
Cricket’s fairytale team were outclassed in every department by the Australian machine in a lop-sided affair that didn’t match the pre-game hype.
But that’s how Australia tend to win World Cups.
There were no half measures in the triumphs of 1999, 2003 and 2007 which were all blazing shut-outs.
Glenn Maxwell bowls Martin Guptill. Picture: Wayne Ludbey.Source: News Corp Australia
Australia’s biggest threat was always going to be themselves, and although selectors took longer than expected to settle on their best XI, at the business end of the tournament they got it 100 per cent right.
It was hard to call New Zealand’s meek surrender a choke, but Australia strangled their little brothers from ball one.
A second-over duck for dangerous opener Aaron Finch gave New Zealand a glimmer of hope, but that soon disappeared as David Warner found the fence seven times in a quick-fire 45.
When Warner was caught in the deep it robbed the fans of a rampant finish, but it opened the scene for Clarke to walk out and write his own dream script.
Clarke polarises opinion, but there is no denying the magnitude of his personal achievement this World Cup.
Few gave the skipper a hope of making his February 21 deadline so soon was it after the career-saving hamstring surgery he underwent before Christmas.
On match-eve he told teammates and the world that the final would be his ODI swansong.
All agreed it was the perfect time for Clarke to hand the keys to Smith and on Sunday night the players fired from all cylinders for their departing skipper.
Clarke’s innings won’t be forgotten, but this World Cup win will always be remembered as a bowler’s triumph.
Johnson followed the Starc slip-stream and fired Kane Williamson, the prodigious Kiwi talent who sunk Australia in the group stages at Eden Park.
There would be two more wickets for Johnson, who like a true champion, peaked when it mattered most.
David Warner played a quickfire knock for Australia. Picture: Michael Klein.Source: News Corp Australia
Faulkner is an all-rounder with rare tenacity and on Sunday night he willed himself to a brilliant three-wicket starring role.
The Big Show Glenn Maxwell didn’t get a bat, but even he got in on the act taking home two wickets to cap off a stellar tournament.
There’s been no mention of ODI retirement from Brad Haddin, but if this was to be his last outing in canary gold – he took another spectacular one-handed grab at the MCG to add to his summer collection.
Haddin has flown under the radar this World Cup, but has been faultless at every turn.
See how the action unfolded in our live blog below.