Earlier Australia and New Zealand were anxiously awaiting the start of Sunday’s cricket World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the sport’s spiritual homes.
Around 90,000 fans were expected to attend the match while millions more will watch on television as the two neighbours and great sporting rivals battle it out for cricket’s greatest prize.
The sense of anticipation at the sprawling stadium was evident hours before the start of the match with rival supporters dressed in gold Australian shirts and Black New Zealand tops.
The final is the culmination of a tournament that began in mid-February with 14 teams and will now be played between the two tournament co-hosts.
Australia have won the World Cup a record four times, including three in a row between 1999 and 2007, but have never won on home soil.
For New Zealand, it is their first appearance in the final after losing in the semi-finals six times before. They made it to the decider after beating South Africa in a thriller at Eden Park last Tuesday.
Unbeaten in eight matches at home, including a win over Australia in the group stage, they nevertheless go into the final as underdogs against their trans-Tasman rivals.
Despair for New Zealand, who got to the end of their fairytale Cricket World Cup story only to find Australia had penned a cruel twist on the final page.
Their worst fears were realised; Brendon McCullum failed, the batsman save Grant Elliott could not resist the exhibition of left-arm pace by Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and James Faulkner, and the World Cup final was an anticlimax.
Australia win the cup for the fifth time on the back of a world class performance, a seven-wicket victory over New Zealand sending most of the 93,013 fans – a world record for a cricket match – at the Melbourne Cricket Ground into delirium and captain Michael Clarke into ODI retirement a world champion.
The Black Caps fought in the field, chipped three wickets out, but 183 was never enough to defend and the target was achieved off the first ball of the 34th over.
Clarke hit 74 from 72 balls but became Matt Henry’s second victim with the finish line in sight. Fittingly, though, captain-in-waiting Steve Smith was there at the end, 56 not out.
New Zealand will reflect on a successful campaign which captivated the nation on the back of an attacking brand of cricket and eight successive wins to reach the final, but the result puts a dampener on things.
There was a feeling New Zealand’s best chance was to chase but McCullum wanted to be positive and set the tone, so he batted on a pristine pitch boasting few demons under the Melbourne sun. Fair call.
But even a wonderful knock from Elliott couldn’t save his team-mates’ blushes, as they were rolled for 183 in 45 overs, about 100 runs shy of what they would have wanted.
Elliott, 36, looked a million dollars as he freely struck the ball and found the gaps in a continuation of the form which he showed in the semifinal win over South Africa.
He scored 83 from 82 balls, and shared in a 111-run stand for the fourth wicket with Ross Taylor (40 from 72), as New Zealand dragged themselves out of the mire at 39-3 in the 13th over to be poised for an imposing total, at 150-3 after 35 overs.
But the first over of the batting power-play proved the most crucial of the innings, as Taylor was superbly caught by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and the dangerous Corey Anderson went two balls later for a duck.
Anderson missed a full, straight ball that didn’t do much, James Faulkner notched a double-wicket maiden, and in the next over Luke Ronchi was gone.
Suddenly three wickets had fallen for one run in just eight balls and Daniel Vettori was in with 14 overs to go and just 151 runs on the board.
Vettori made nine before he was skittled by Johnson, Elliott became Faulkner’s third victim after an excellent rearguard effort which included seven fours and a six, and the tail didn’t wag.
New Zealand lost 7-33 in the implosion.
Credit must go to Australia’s three left-arm quicks, though, who were hostile from ball one and their in-the-face attitude was backed up in the field and by Haddin, who kept going verbally at New Zealand, in particular Elliott. They were not shy in sending the batsmen on their way.
Johnson finished with 3-30 from nine, Faulkner 3-26 from nine, and Starc 2-20 from eight. It was all high quality stuff, and simply too good.
McCullum, the key wicket for Australia, was back in the hutch in the first over, bowled for a three-ball duck by a rampant Starc who got it hooping early and had McCullum’s measure.
Guptill (15 off 34) was undone by offspinner Glenn Maxwell, a lazy shot ended in his off stump being rocked back.
It was an unfortunate way for the leading run-scorer at the World Cup – Guptill scored 547 runs, edging ahead of Kumar Sangakkara’s 541 – to end the tournament.