Michael Clarke's ODI swansong: Australia's fifth World Cup trophy and a tribute to Phil Hughes
Australia captain Michael Clarke dedicated Sunday's World Cup final triumph to Phillip Hughes, the team-mate who died after being hit on the head by a bouncer last year. A record crowd of 93,013 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground saw power-packed Australia bowl out the Black Caps for 183 and then gallop to victory in the 34th over. Clarke, who announced his retirement from the one-day format on the eve of the final, added 112 runs for the third wicket with his likely successor Steve Smith, who returned unbeaten on 56.cricket Updated: Mar 29, 2015 19:31 IST
Michael Clarke hit 74 in his last one-day international to lead Australia to their fifth World Cup title with a seven-wicket win over New Zealand in a disappointing final on Sunday.
A record crowd of 93,013 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground saw power-packed Australia bowl out the Black Caps for 183 and then gallop to victory in the 34th over.
Clarke, who announced his retirement from the one-day format on the eve of the final, added 112 runs for the third wicket with his likely successor Steve Smith, who returned unbeaten on 56.
Clarke shrugged off fitness fears, talk of rifts with team-mates, coach and selectors to spearhead Australia to a fifth World Cup crown.
It was a fitting finale for 33-year-old Clarke, who played his 245th and scored 7,981 runs -- after being largely a peripheral figure for the Australian team in the tournament scoring two half-centuries in six knocks although his leadership and on-field strategy have not been questioned.
"I think I'm doing all right. I think my record is pretty good up against anybody in the world. I think my record holds its place. I'm not concerned at all," retorted Clarke.
Yet his last ODI century came against England in Manchester in September 2013 and up to the World Cup Clarke had played in only six ODIs in the previous year.
Speculation over the state of his fitness also annoyed him after recent battles with hamstring and back problems.
"I think everybody is sick of talking about my injury, my old injury, I should say," said Clarke.
While Clarke was on the sidelines, Smith successfully filled in as captain to lead Australia to a 2-0 Test series victory in the three remaining Tests against India and is expected to take over the ODI role full-time.
Reports at the time suggested the team had taken to Smith's style, while speculation that Clarke wanted to have a strong say in when he was ready to return to the team from injury had caused friction with Cricket Australia.
"It seems like some people in particular are going to write what they want to write," he scowled.
"I'm really happy and comfortable with my relationship with Cricket Australia firstly, certainly with my teammates.
"It's water off a duck's back for me, I've copped it my whole career. It's another day, another newspaper sold. I don't really care."
There was even talk of a fall-out with coach Darren Lehmann and chief selector Rod Marsh over a deadline imposed on him to confirm his place in the World cup squad.
"You won't get headlines out of me," Clarke told reporters.
Sunday's World Cup final triumph was a career pinnacle for Clarke, who won 50 of his 74 ODIs as Australia's skipper.
"It's been an honour and a privilege to represent my country, the time is right for to walk away from one-day cricket," Clarke.
But he isn't finished.
He will continue to play Test cricket looking to add to his 108 matches so far which have yielded 8,432 runs and a highest score of an undefeated 329.
Tribute to Hughes
"I'm sure everybody standing on this stage will say we played this World Cup with 16 players," said Clarke in reference to close friend and former teammate Phillip Hughes who died in November last year after being hit on the head by a bouncer in a first-class match in Sydney.
"This victory is dedicated to our little brother Phillip Hughes. Hughesy used to party as good as any of them so I guarantee we'll celebrate hard tonight."
Respect for the rival, teammates
Clarke also praised New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum and his team who came up short in the final after winning all their eight games in the tournament heading into the final.
"The New Zealand team deserve a lot of credit -- they're always a tough team to beat. Congratulations to Brendon and the team on a great tournament," said Clarke.
"Thanks to all the supporters out there, and most importantly, thanks to our amazing team -- the way they've stood up and played tonight, they deserve to be here.
"We played really well tonight. The guys were ready. It's been an honour and a privilege to represent my country in both Test and ODI cricket.
"But the time is right for me to step down from ODI cricket," added Clarke, who was out with just nine runs needed for victory.
As he walked off, he was given a standing ovation by the record 93,013 crowd inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Australia's emphatic win was set up by the left-arm fast bowling trio of Mitchell Starc, James Faulkner and Mitchell Johnson who shared eight wickets after the Kiwis elected to bat on a good pitch.
New Zealand messed up their maiden appearance in the title clash of cricket's showpiece event, falling like nine pins against the hostile Australian bowling.
Inspirational captain McCullum fell off the fifth ball of the innings for a duck and two other frontline batsmen, Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi, also failed to score.
South Africa-born Grant Elliott top-scored with 83, sharing a fourth-wicket stand of 111 with Ross Taylor (40) after New Zealand had been reduced to 39 for three in the 13th over.
The massive crowd, which broke the MCG record of 91,112 on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test against England in 2013, saw New Zealand lose their last seven wickets for 33 runs.
"We played some outstanding cricket in the tournament, but we ran into an outstanding Australia team tonight who continue to set the way in world cricket. Michael Clarke deserves to bow out as world champion," said McCullum.
New Zealand crumbled, though they had raised hopes of repeating their amazing win in the league when they removed Aaron Finch for a duck in the second over; Trent Boult took an easy return catch as the ball lobbed off the batsman's bat and pad.
Australia's previous titles came in 1987, 1999, 2003 and 2007 with coach Darren Lehmann, a two-time World Cup winner as a player, celebrating another success off the field.
Left-hander David Warner slammed seven boundaries in his 45 off 46 balls, adding 61 for the second wicket with Smith.
But the pugnacious opener was unable to build on his fine start as he pulled seamer Matt Henry down Elliott's throat at deep square-leg.
Smith, who scored a century in the semi-final against India in Sydney last Thursday, continued his good form to help Clarke take charge of the match.
Clarke was bowled by Henry when just nine runs remained for victory and was given a standing ovation by team-mates and fans as he returned with his bat raised.
Smith sealed victory by pulling Henry for a boundary, sparking jubilant scenes in the stands as Clarke and the rest of the team ran on to the field to embrace Smith.
Starc's two wickets in the innings took his tally to 22, enabling him to emerge with Boult as the joint highest wicket-takers in the tournament.
Martin Guptill surpassed Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara's 541 runs to become the tournament's leading run-getter when he reached 10, but he managed to add just five runs more.
The tall opener, who hit a World Cup record score of 237 not out against the West Indies in the quarter-finals, was bowled trying to cut Glenn Maxwell's second delivery.
Taylor and Elliott settled in to build a strong partnership and had taken the total to 150-3 when the batting powerplay began after the 35th over.
Both sides fielded unchanged teams from their semi-final wins where Australia beat India and New Zealand downed South Africa in a penultimate-ball thriller.