Watching the World Cup final yesterday morning, it almost felt as if the dominant, imperious Australian team that reigned supreme from the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century had never left us in the first place.
It has pretty much been that way all throughout the tournament. Watching as an England fan, you waited for the veneer to slip, or maybe the moment when their natural confidence turned into a lackadaisical complacency. But the moment never came.
Maybe it already happened. Australia got their bad game out of the way against New Zealand in the group stage, narrowly losing one of the matches of the tournament at Eden Park. Such a well-oiled machine wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Not in one tournament.
In the opening game in Australia, England were brushed aside by Clarke and co with ease, quite amusing ease. The rain then rescued Bangladesh. Sri Lanka suffered a similar fate to Morgan’s men.
Aside from a scintillating spell of hostility from Wahab Riaz, Pakistan failed to provide an exemplary challenge in the quarter-finals. India, unbeaten India, MS Dhoni’s India, proved to be cannon fodder at the SCG in the semis.
New Zealand had played pretty similar cricket to Australia throughout the tournament. It involved brazen, snarling bowling and carefree, yet calculated batting. Maybe they were the ones to challenge this inexorable superiority. The simple, regrettable answer was no.
Australia have found their level, and it is different to one that anyone else currently occupies. This has been a reversion back to the Australia that won three World Cups in a row from 1999-2007. The intensity simply doesn’t look like letting up.
And who’s to say it will? Without wanting to sound reactive, this side has a chance to take 50-over cricket by the scruff of the neck for the long haul, like so many of their predecessors have done.
Players will inevitably have to move on. Four that played yesterday were aged 33 over. Yet replacements seem so readily available that it scarcely seems to matter. Smith will captain the side in Clarke’s absence. He has led and will lead his teammates well.
Smith is also batting in that serene, almost faultless zone that few players ever enter during their careers’ entirety. The former bits and bobs cricketer now looks infallible to the point where you wonder whether his form will ever decline again. It will invariably come to an end, but that point doesn’t seem close for now.
Brad Haddin, at the age of 37, will surely follow Clarke. If so, his competitive edge will be missed, but his sneery sledging will not be. He will be seamlessly replaced by one of the plethora of wicket keepers at Australia’s disposal. Matthew Wade, Tim Paine, Peter Handscombe and Peter Neville could all make the grade. Tim Ludeman also impressed during the Big Bash.
Mitchell Johnson has also hinted at a potential one-day retirement. His absence would be more keenly felt in the current set-up, but if there is one thing Australia don’t have a paucity of, it is young fast bowlers. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are fully settled in the team, with Starc picking up the man of the tournament gong. James Faulkner, who bases his game round a deceitful array of slower balls, proved his worth by dismantling New Zealand’s middle order in yesterday’s final.
Young Pat Cummins has had to look on from the sidelines. Mitchell Marsh took a five-for v England before promptly disappearing. Nathan Coulter-Nile, Sean Abbott, Kane Richardson and John Hastings didn’t make the squad. Others fantasise over such riches, Australia make them wait patiently in the wings.
You get the idea. Australia will recover from their losses.
They will still face stiff challenges. South Africa’s three stars, Dale Steyn, AB De Villiers and Hashim Amla, will all continue for the foreseeable future. Faf Du Plessis, David Miller and Imran Tahir have all showcased their ability at the highest level, and they will consider themselves unlucky not to have reached their first World cup final.
New Zealand are currently sweating on the potential retirement of Brendon McCullum, and Daniel Vettori is bowing out after a wonderful career. The Black Caps though, with or without McCullum, would remain a formidable force.
India still perhaps have the most talented set of batsmen in the world. In the one-day game they have recovered from the loss of the stars that took them to the world title in 2011 admirably. Australia were too good on home soil, but they will remain there or thereabouts, and significantly more comfortable on slower surfaces.
Sri Lanka face an uncertain future without their two benign batting fathers. Pakistan will also find life hard without the phlegmatic presence of Misbah ul-Haq. For England and West Indies, the outlook seems decidedly bleak for the time being.
The point is though; none of these opponents look like they are about to drastically improve. India may have the potential to, but it is Australia that look like they may have the best chance of developing under Steve Smith in this format.
This is after they have just walloped everyone out of site on the biggest stage of all. Australia have won four out of the last five World Cups. That authority doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.