Is winning World Cups in Australia's DNA?

Join us on a journey through time as we unravel the captivating story of Australia's World Cup triumphs

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This is Geoff Marsh. He was one of the slowest ODI batters of his era, and really, of all time. But this was not by accident, he was told to play this way. Marsh was the first anchor in ODI cricket. Or at least, the first person who embraced and talked about his role that way. He was supposed to bat as long as he could and let everyone else score quicker around him.

In 1987, Geoff Marsh he made the second most runs in the tournament. That was where this all started, Australia winning World Cups, with Marsh running singles and facing dot balls.

36 years and 11 days later, his son Mitch Marsh was batting at number three for Australia. Two World Cups inside India, two Marshs, 400 run totals, and two winning tournaments.

The difference is the scoring rate. Geoff Marsh was ahead of his time, by being slow. Mitch Marsh is like a number three enforcer, a position that really no other team has either. Australia are ahead of the game again.

When you think about this, this family of Australian victors, all bound by World Cup-winning DNA. And if you read the many comments and social media posts that is what you will hear, that Australian cricket has winning in its blood. Outside of the Marshs, that can’t be true, right?

So I really wanted to look at all of Australia’s winning World Cups to see if there was a pattern at all.

1987 is really the birth of Australian professionalism. No one thought much of this team coming in. But they were looking at cricket in a way that didn’t exist before. They turned up in Chennai preparing for a World Cup. They had a plan, and the players were willing to execute it, in a format of cricket that was still not taken that seriously.

We have already discussed how important Geoff Marsh was for Australia; he was the spine of the Australian bat. In terms of runs, he and his fellow opener David Boon were the second and third leading run scorers in the tournament.

But they had other advantages in ‘87, one was that while Austalia had always been a good running between the wickets team, they weaponised it that year. Dean Jones essentially took Javed Miandad’s style, but did it fitter, and the rest of the team ran as hard as they could as well. Australia literally ran rings around people.

Sadly, Craig McDermott isn’t known as much today for two reasons. With all the bowlers that followed for Australia, he got overlooked. But he was also a great ODI bowler and a very good Test one. And that lessons his memory. But McDermott was really a strike bowler, well ahead of his time. And unlike in Tests, he was a threat right through the innings. In this series, he bowled very fast and took the most Wickets. But often he took them with his off-cutting slower ball which was still relatively new at that point.

Australia actually had terrible spin. Tim May was a good bowler, but not in ODIs. And so Australia needed their quicks to step up. And they did, by bowling slow. McDermott’s off-cutter was important, but Australia had two all-rounders with another slower ball.

Simon O’Donnell is thought to be the man who popularised the back of the hand slower ball. But he was not alone, as Steve Waugh could also bowl it. This is a very underrated reason why Australia won this World Cup. Waugh would eventually be known as a grumbled vet, but this was the young Dwayne Bravo-like version. Slogging in the end and bowling huge slower balls to embarrass everyone.

The last thing Australia did well was the fact that they fielded very well. Like their running between the wickets, it was about fitness and preparation. But this win really changed how ODI cricket was played, as other teams looked for more singles and twos, and started fielding with dives and skill. This all started here. West Indies had shown glimpses of these things, but Australia professionalised it.

No one expected them to win, and this was probably the last time that ever happened.

After a disastrous home ‘92 campaign, and running into Sri Lanka in ‘96, the team who had changed ODIs had managed to lose twice in a row. ‘99 looked the same when they started.

The great news is they had some of the best seam bowlers in the world at that time, and yet they chose to open with Adam Dale. A decent little outswing bowler, and they moved Glenn McGrath to first change. Australia had the best new ball bowler - perhaps ever - and they made him first change. Once they abandoned that idea, Australia stormed back in.

In the same tournament, Shane Warne started slow as well, being low on confidence after Australia had dropped him when he was struggling with his comeback from injury. The problem for the other teams was he found his form at the end when McGrath did. I am unsure how you should win when Warne and McGrath are in form. The odd thing is that this is the only World Cup that ever happened. And in the end, it was nearly enough.

Australia made more errors, after shunning Andrew Symonds and Ian Harvey when selecting, they went with Brendon Julian and Shane Lee. Who both struggled. But luckily they brought out their spare all-rounder from ‘87, Tom Moody. He would go on to have an econ of 4.3 and score with a strike rate of 130.

But the really important player from ‘87 was Steve Waugh. Back then he was a cutting-edge guy, but now he was barely bowling due to hamstring issues and scoring at a much more middle-aged strike rate. But when he was needed in the Super Six and semi-final stood up with big innings that saved Australia from embarrassment. But even when he failed, Michael Bevan was there. The only man before the year 2000 to average 50. Bevan was the last man out in the semi-final for Australia and pulled them to the exact right score.

Despite being a great team on paper, this actually wasn’t that good a performance. But Warne, Waugh, McGrath and Bevan were enough at the end.

‘03 was in the middle of the threepeat. But it wasn’t all dominant. So again Michael Bevan had to pull Australia back from some bad positions. So for two World Cups in a row, the best batter in the world was needed. But it was more interesting than that.

In the games against New Zealand and England, Bevan paired up with the tail to make a decent total. Brett Lee chipped in once and the other one was Andy Bichel. And that is where this gets fun. Because Australia was not supposed to be using him as a player. Their first choice was Jason Gillespie, who blitzed to start the tournament. But then got injured so Bichel played some games. And not only did he take 16 wickets at 12, but he also made 64, 30 more than his second-highest score.

That is some depth. But they did the same thing with spin. Brad Hogg was a late replacement after Warne’s drug ban. And he took 13 wickets at 24.

All in all, Australia took 101 wickets at 18. They were the best bowling team in the history of a World Cup by average, and they did it with two of their best four bowlers not there. Just next level. If you made more than 220 against this team, you were doing well.

But in the final, it was the top three that stood up. Matt Hayden took over from Mark Waugh and actually did better. Adam Gilchrist went off as well. And this was Ricky Ponting when his form, skill and youthful freedom all met. He was what Dean Jones was trying to perfect 16 years prior. In the final, he was just incredible.

The 2007 team was the best Australian side but also probably the best ODI team ever. They won all their games again, but by 671 runs and with 40 wickets and 446 balls in hand. They clocked cricket.

The top order was better this time. Matt Hayden had the second-greatest series by an opener, Adam Gilchrist hit a Cup-winning hundred and Ponting averaged 67.  How about this for a fun fact, in the 03 and 07 finals, Australia scored at quicker than seven runs an over in both. Against Murali, Vaas, Malinga, Zaheer, Srinath and Harbhajan. Bonkers.

The thing is their middle order was incredible as well. Everyone made runs. Shane Watson batted like ‘99 Klusener. They have the highest batting average ever for a team.

Remember Warne never came back to ODIs and so his understudy Hogg took 21 wickets at 16. He would retire from international cricket a year later, and Australia were so arrogant that they didn’t even really worry about it. Why would they worry? There was always someone else to come in.

From 1987 to 2007, I took the best 15 Australian players and put them in one team. And then I made another team of understudies. I am pretty sure the backups would have won a World Cup or two, just insane.

This player is not current-day famous. In fact, when I say his name, it might be the first time anyone has uttered it in a cricket context this year. But Nathan Bracken was one of the best bowlers at this stage. He took the fourth most wickets for Australia, but he took them at an average of 16, and an economy of 3.6 runs an over. This isn’t ODI cricket of the 80s, this is 2007. And while we were all talking about Shaun Tait’s 23 wickets, and Glenn McGrath again, Bracken put in one of the best World Cup chokeholds ever.

That finally finished the golden era, and Australia had one whole World Cup where they didn’t win before avenging their terrible ‘92 tournament. This one was between them and New Zealand, which happened in the final.

Five balls into the final, Mitchell Starc had all but ended it. In that tournament, he took 22 wickets at ten. The team was so good that Cummins and Hazlewood were barely needed.

One of the reasons was that Australia had at number eight James Faulkner. Has any player burned this bright and faded so quick? He averaged 35 with the bat in ODIs at better than a run a ball, while averaging 30 with the ball as a back-of-the-hand slowerball specialist at the death. This was probably the first tournament Australia had true England-style batting depth down the order. And it did not matter, Faulkner was barely needed because the top order went crazy.

Australia had five players averaging over 40. But it gets better because three of them did it at better than a run a ball. Three of them, Warner, Haddin and Watson had a strike rate over 100. And Glenn Maxwell struck at 180. Yeah. Dhoni basically admitted that Australia just scored too quick in the semi-final.

And now we have the latest victory. It was a riches-to-riches win by a team who was headbutting a wall and crying after two games, and ended up with a tactical masterclass in the final to win the entire thing.

But they also just smashed the shit out of the ball. Their top three all averaged more than 48 and did it at more than a run a ball. They made six hundreds between them, and completely annihilated teams to overcome their middle-order issues.

In fact, Maxwell was their middle order on his own. He actually slowed down in this tournament from eight years ago, everyone gets old I guess. But he also played one of the greatest innings of all time and terrified everyone after it.

What about their spin? By the finals, Adam Zampa was getting hit again. But my god, he kept Australia in the tournament. The wins against Sri Lanka and England can be traced back to him. The entire thing would have fallen apart without him because Starc and Cummins were awful. And so was Zampa, until the second half of that Sri Lanka innings. But from then until the finals Zampa went from zero to leading wicket-taker in the tournament.

You will notice that we haven’t mentioned captains much. Australia hasn’t been led by Arjuna Ranatunga, Martin Crowe or MS Dhoni. But in the final, Australia came into it as an outsider for the first time since ‘87. And Pat Cummins did all of his best captaincy in one game. Australia, who have been turning up to World Cups since 2011 in a haphazard way, have to work it out in the tournament now. And that is exactly what they did. That ended with them beating one of the best non-Australian teams ever at a World Cup.

But they also used fielding. So 36 years and 11 days after they won the first World Cup by revolutionising fielding. The whole of cricket does that now, and yet somehow, it was the difference between everyone else and Australia winning another trophy.

1987 is still the most interesting because that is the only time they didn’t have an attacking batter, a spinner they could trust and they actually had an all-rounder who could bat top six and bowl ten overs every match. It was also where they were ahead of the game. Since then, they have been on par with the rest of the world in tactics, or even behind.

But none of that matters. Because Australia have played in eight finals. They lost two of the first three, and none since.

They get to the final, and they attack. With the bat, ball and in the field. And that is the key. If you make it to the World Cup final, you have to beat the opposition. That is what they do. It is not in their blood, but it is in their mindset. This ‘23 team were written off as disorganised woke beta snowflakes, and the disorganised bit was true. They could very easily have gone home. And then in the semi-final they grinded out a win against a South African team that had to be finished off. And then put on a tactical masterpiece to get a good chase against India, before hitting their way out of danger at one end and having an anchor at the other to get home.

That was Travis Head and Marnus Labuschange, but spiritually it was Geoff and Mitch Marsh.

Is it in the blood? Probably not, except the family from WA.

But there is one trend you can see in every one of their wins. They have a lot of fast bowlers who are really good. They always have. And 67% of wickets in ODIs are taken by fast bowlers. Australia has the best seam average and strike rate and the second-greatest economy. But perhaps most importantly, has the most wickets for seam in World Cups. Second place is 50 wickets behind them.

Is it in the blood? No. Is it in the speed? Most probably.