MELBOURNE, Australia – Michael Clarke signed off with a half century and another World Cup title, leading Australia to a seven-wicket victory over first-time finalist New Zealand before a record crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.
Clarke (74) and Steve Smith (56 not out), the current and the likely future captains, spearheaded Australia to the winning target of 184 in the 34th over to capture its record-extending fifth World Cup title.
Clarke, who played in the winning team in 2007, was bowled by Matt Henry nine runs short of the target in his 245th and last one-day international. Smith hit the winning runs as Australia reached 186-3.
Australia's left-arm pacemen did the damage early. Mitchell Starc (2-20), Mitchell Johnson (3-30) and James Faulkner (3-36) combined to dismiss previously unbeaten tournament co-host New Zealand for 183 in 45 overs.
Starc bowled skipper Brendon McCullum for a duck in the first over after New Zealand won the toss and batted in its first away game of the tournament.
Starc was named player of the World Cup for his 22 wickets at an average of 10.18, in a tournament where bat dominated ball.
He, like Clarke, wore a black arm band featuring the initials PH in memory of former Australia teammate Phillip Hughes, who died after being struck by a ball in a domestic match last November.
"I'll wear it every game I play for Australia," said Clarke, who plans to continue as test captain. "It's been a really tough few months -- we've played this World Cup with 16 players. Tonight, this is dedicated to our little brother and teammate Phillip Hughes.
"I'm over the moon -- what a tournament," Clarke added. "Time is right for me to walk away from one-day cricket."
New Zealand captain McCullum said he had no regrets.
"It's been one hell of a ride for us," he said. "Right the way through, we played some outstanding cricket and we ran into an outstanding Australian team today who continue to set the way in international cricket. Full credit to them, they're deserved champions, and Michael Clarke deserved to bow out a World Cup-winning champion."
After slipping to 39-3 in the 13th over, New Zealand recovered in a 111-run stand between Grant Elliott (83) and Ross Taylor (40) before Faulkner triggered the rapid demise with two wickets in three balls in a period when Australia took three wickets for one run in eight deliveries.
The last seven New Zealand wickets fell for 33 runs.
Not to be counted out, having bowled out Australia for 151 in a one-wicket pool win at Auckland a month ago, New Zealand took a wicket in the second over to make the chase more interesting.
Trent Boult, who took 5-27 against Australia in Auckland, took a return catch to remove Aaron Finch (0) with the total at 2, but David Warner (45) and Smith steadied the chase with a 61-run partnership in 64 balls.
Warner's dismissal, caught by Elliott off Henry's bowling, brought Clarke to the crease to raucous cheering from the crowd of 93,013. And the 33-year-old skipper responded by sharing a 112-run partnership with Smith to remove any doubt about the result.
The New Zealanders were the story of the tournament, led by McCullum's enterprising captaincy. On home turf, though, it was Clarke who had the better of the exchange, with his bowling changes netting wickets quickly, and his fielding changes cutting down the run flow and contributing to dismissals.
Starc, who took 6-28 to keep Australia in the Feb. 28 contest at Auckland, ensured New Zealand made the worst possible start to the final by beating McCullum's bat twice before bowling him for a third-ball duck.
Glenn Maxwell got the next big breakthrough when he bowled Martin Guptill (15), the tournament's leading scorer with 547 runs, with his second delivery.
Guptill, who scored 57, 105, a World Cup-record unbeaten 237, and 34 in his previous four innings, survived the early pace battery but succumbed immediately to spin.
The innings could have been worse for New Zealand, with Elliott on 15 when he was adjudged lbw to Maxwell but having the decision overturned on review.
Taylor faced 72 balls before edging a wider ball from Faulkner at the start of the batting power play, and was well caught by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi followed quickly, and Daniel Vettori, likely playing his last international game, couldn't hang around with Elliott long enough to produce the kind of late partnership that helped New Zealand to a next-to-last-ball semifinal win over South Africa.
India defended 183 to win the 1983 World Cup final against the West Indies, but New Zealand always faced an uphill battle at the MCG.