When the 2019 World Cup gets underway at the Oval on May 30, it will have been 20 months since James Faulkner last played for Australia. It is difficult to imagine that when the last World Cup ended, Faulkner was front and centre, Man of the Match on a euphoric night for Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In the four years since, he has played only 25 One-Day Internationals as form, injury and off-field issues contributed to his decline in fortunes.
But Faulkner, still only 29, will always have the 2015 World Cup final to look back on. The all-rounder had the reputation of being a cricketer who just made things happen, and he lived up to that billing that evening. New Zealand, batting first, had recovered from early setbacks to reach 150 for three in 35 overs. Faulkner then broke the game open, removing a well-set Ross Taylor and Corey Anderson in the space of three balls. That triggered a remarkable collapse, with Faulkner returning later to prise out Grant Elliott for 83. New Zealand eventually lost seven wickets for 33 in 10 overs, handing Australia an unimposing target of 184.
Mitchell Johnson (three for 30) and Mitchell Starc (two for 20) — who set the tone for the evening with his fifth-ball dismissal of the dangerous Brendon McCullum — were worthy candidates too, but it was Faulkner who was declared the player of the final for his game-changing three for 36. It was impossible to disagree with that decision.
It marked an extraordinary turnaround for Faulkner, who had suffered a side strain less than two weeks before the World Cup began and wondered if he would even be part of the tournament. He was unavailable for Australia’s first three matches before returning to the side. His fitness and form was a concern, but Faulkner delivered when Australia needed it most.