All Hail The Champions

Australia are the cricket champions of the world.  Again.  It is a bitter pill to swallow for South Africans but we must be honest and admit the Baggy Greens were the best team at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.  Really?  What about New Zealand?  India did so well.  How can you not mention us?

Let us start with the defending champions, or former champions as they now are.  The Indians were magnificent during the group stage.  Without taking anything away from them their only real tests were going to be against Pakistan and the South Africans.  The former offered very little resistance as they started very poorly and the latter were ordinary in the clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.  Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team were never going to be tested against Bangladesh in the quarter-finals either.  The master plan of spending some four months Down Under was good in theory but they only stayed in the tournament a week longer than the Bangladeshis who arrived on the eve of the competition so did the tactic really pay off?  When the heat was on Dhoni’s side fell to Australians in the semi-finals and they were never really in that match.

As for the Proteas it was yet another case of so close, yet so far.  Perhaps the problem was going to the World Cup without a definitive starting XI.  There is nothing wrong with horses for courses but when you don’t know who your stallion for the stadium is, the result is sure to be a mare.  Farhaan Behardien and Wayne Parnell were vying for the position but in the end it turned out to be Rilee Rossouw, who instead of batting at seven was up at four where captain AB De Villiers should be.  In fact, De Villiers should be batting at three in my view.  It is my take that the number seven position South Africa harps on about so often is in fact one that should be reserved for an all-rounder, who is also the fifth bowler.  JP Duminy did wonderfully well to grab a hat-trick against Sri Lanka but we all know he is not a front line bowler and neither is the skipper.  Players like Duminy, Behardien, and to a lesser extend De Villiers, should be bowling when one of your chosen five happens to be off colour on the day.

New Zealand were fabulous.  An aggressive brand of cricket was both entertaining and effective.  The Kiwis were worth finalists and superb co-hosts.  In the end the Black Caps were just beaten by the better side.  A superior team that had an off day with the bat in Auckland and still nearly pulled off a miracle.  Congratulations are due to Brendon McCullum and his charges, who have become the neutral’s favourite.

And that brings me to the champions.  This might not be the all-conquering Australia from a decade ago but boy, do they have stars.  And I’m not just talking about the ones on their shirts or flag.  Mitchell Starc was the player of the tournament with his 22 sticks in what was very much a batsman’s tournament.  Starc was well supported in spells by Mitchell Johnson, James Faulkner and Josh Hazlewood.  Each of the others would pick a day to back Starc up and so the co-hosts always had at least two bowlers unleashing relentless pressure.

Another key for the Aussies was the top trio.  Aaron Finch and David Warner were backed up at first by Shane Watson but then Steve Smith traded places with Watson and it was the solution to the puzzle.  In the opening match against England Finch hit 135, Warner and Smith hammered 178 and 95 respectivley against Afghanistan and Smith made 72 against Sri Lanka in Australia’s group stage victories.  Notice how one of the top three contributed on each occasion to lay a foundation, and usually at a run-a-ball too.

The trend continued in the knockouts when Smith hit 65, clubbed a ton in the semi against India and hit the winning runs with an unbeaten half-century in the final.  In the final four clash Finch contributed 81.  This all laid the platform for players like Watson and Glenn Maxwell to come in and make merry if and when required.  All in all Michael Clarke’s men played the conditions and the rules perfectly and yes, there was a wobble or two along the way but ultimately they grew in strength as the tournament progressed and peaked at just the right time to render the final at the MCG a virtual no contest.

They did well.