It goes back to the DNA question. They do have more confidence in a tournament like this than other teams. Even their coaches intimidate. Justin Langer, a baggy green in human form who was hit in the head for his country almost as many times as they won Tests. Brad Haddin was an amalgamation of Australian wicketkeeping aggression and won a World Cup. And Ricky Ponting was a three-time World Cup winner while being Ricky Ponting. And if you think that shouldn’t matter, maybe it doesn’t, but when Stoinis was in the dank indoor nets of Trent Bridge, having Ponting feed balls to him and say things like: “That’s a beautiful shot, mate,” maybe you start to believe that you are part of an ancient bloodline of success.
But that doesn’t change the genuine problems of the team.
The batsmen were out of place, with too many top-order players. Khawaja had to drop to No. 3 to stay in the team, which meant he was in a position he wasn’t suited for. That also meant Smith wasn’t in the only place in the order he averages 35-plus. That’s two mistakes in one move. Another game had Shaun Marsh as a death hitter, a position he is as suited to as he would be to fronting a Norwegian quiz show. Although Alex Carey was their third-highest scorer in the tournament, he remained at No. 7 until the last game. And once you got through the batsmen, there was a bowler at No. 8 who could hit. When Nathan Coulter-Nile made 92 against West Indies, it was hailed as hard work paying off. But it was also the luckiest innings over 50 in this tournament, and it never looked like a consistent fix. Then Coulter-Nile was dropped, the batting got shallower.
The bowling was about quality, Coulter-Nile couldn’t maintain pressure, Adam Zampa never looked right, Jason Behrendorff is incredible at the top but limited in the middle and later on, Nathan Lyon has been hard to get away but taken less than a wicket a match, and teams block out Pat Cummins. So that leaves Starc to take wickets. Cummins and Starc averaged a combined 22.5 as of part-way through the semi-final, the other bowlers combined were 45.2. They’ve also been 0.7 runs an over better off. And that is before you get to the fifth bowler, where Glenn Maxwell hasn’t taken a wicket in 294 balls, and all the fifth bowlers combined (Stoinis, Maxwell, Smith and Aaron Finch) average 66, and their economy is 6.15. That average includes a Finch wicket off a full toss and Smith’s fluke Colin de Grandhomme dismissal. Had Matthew Wade played, he had reasonable chance of bowling.
And Australia’s depth of talent was always thin. Their top five players – Warner, Aaron Finch, Smith, Cummins and Starc (not Glenn Maxwell, really) make knees weak. There’s Alex Carey, with strong claims as the wicketkeeper-batsman of this World Cup, too. And that’s how they played, the top players performing, and everyone else in the wrong role, there because of an injury, or perhaps just not good enough.
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Injuries played a part too. In the semi-final, they had someone not in their original squad batting at No. 4, with Khawaja watching from the sidelines when the one thing Australia needed in this game was the kind of innings Khawaja had played against New Zealand. Coulter-Nile, and then Behrendorff, played only because Richardson, their original choice, was injured and they were too cautious about Hazlewood’s fitness. Fitness issues perhaps hampered Stoinis’ preparation as well.
But even with all that, when they started beating teams, we still believed. Maybe winning World Cups is not in Australia’s DNA, perhaps believing they will is in ours. They were lucky against West Indies, outclassed by India, saved by a few players against New Zealand and England, and couldn’t beat the disappointing South Africa to claim top spot. They should have been playing New Zealand in the semi-finals. Considering their lack of preparation, the comet sized damage of #sandpapergate, a few injuries and their ODI record since the last Champions Trophy, second on the table and a semi-final spot is incredible. We just expect more.
But they do win; they won a lot here, they won after they lost a lot. They won when they played ordinary. They won against good teams. And we believe they will win, because of all the other winning. Most of our lives has been them winning. They win. Because Australia.
Aaron Finch talks to his teammates before the second innings Getty Images
Starc may not be made player of the tournament, but he’s probably been even better this time around than when he won in 2015. He’s made more of an impact across more games. Australia might not have beaten Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand or England without him. Between the 30th and 40th over he bowls the devil’s pitchforks. But today isn’t his day.
He returns to the crease for the 31st over with 1 for 64 from his eight overs. It’s his fifth spell. His first is often close to perfunctory, even if he reaches 94 miles an hour. It’s his second, third and fourth spells that do the damage. That he is into his fifth tells you a lot. His one-over spell to Jonny Bairstow in the 18th was his only wicket, and Joe Root still hit three boundaries during it.
England only needs eight runs to win. Root gets a fast length ball outside off, the type Starc has beaten batsmen with all tournament, and Root square drives it to the fence. Root then tries to pull but mishits it into the gap. Morgan gets a fast straight yorker, the kind Starc destroys with, he knocks it to short cover for a single. The last ball Starc bowls this World Cup is fast, back of a length, outside off stump, Root slashes it, but can’t beat point. Starc wipes his brow, takes his cap, Finch and then Cummins pat his back before he heads down to third man. Morgan faces the next ball from Behrendorff, it’s not a left arm thunderbolt, but a fast medium ball around off stump that Morgan flat bats over mid on.
England has beaten Australia with pace, legspin, hitting, class middle order, planning and professionalism. The same things won Australia five World Cups. Maybe it wasn’t the DNA. Starc couldn’t even win this from here. When Starc returned to the crease, the England fans were singing “It’s coming home”. But it wasn’t; the World Cup won’t go to the team who have held it the most.
Because Australia were not quite good enough this time.