LONDON: As Australia stand two wins away from a successful World Cup title defence, they owe much of their serene progress to the red-hot form of paceman Mitchell Starc, who also spearheaded their triumph on home soil four years ago.
The left-arm quick's 22 wickets earned him the player of the tournament award when Australia won their fifth World Cup in 2015, beating New Zealand in a one-sided final.
Rather fittingly, Starc surpassed that wicket tally in a rematch of that final at Lord's on Saturday to consolidate his position as this edition's leading wicket-taker with 24 victims.
His match-winning 5-26 was a record third five-wicket haul for any bowler in World Cup annals, following his 5-46 against West Indies at Nottingham earlier in the tournament and his 6-28 also against New Zealand in Auckland in 2015.
Starc now has 46 wickets from 16 matches across the last two World Cups at an average of just under 13.
Among the competition's top 50 wicket takers of all-time, he has now jumped to sixth and has both the best average and best strike rate, taking a wicket on average every 18 balls.
Among the active bowlers, only Sri Lankan veteran Lasith Malinga has more - 52 wickets from 27 matches - but with an average of 22.
"Mitchell Starc came into this tournament as one of the leading wicket takers and he has shown his skills on different surfaces through the tournament," New Zealand captain Kane Williamson conceded after his team's 86-run defeat.
"He is bowling very well at the moment."
Starc's yorker to England all-rounder Ben Stokes has already become one of the highlights of this year's tournament and the paceman's latest 'five-for' even trumped fellow New Zealand left-armer Trent Boult's hat-trick.
"I guess that fuller length and that straighter line for me, attacking those stumps, it is pretty much part of my game plan," Starc told reporters, crediting the whole bowling unit for routing their trans-Tasman rivals.
"The guys that were picked today did another fantastic job. I don't think we've quite played the perfect game, especially as a bowling group, I guess I could say.
"But yeah, we're finding ways to scrap and to restrict teams, and we keep improving every game."
Table-toppers Australia went into the match already assured of their place in the semi-finals.
Their only loss in eight matches came against India but Starc was happy how the team seem to be peaking at the right time.
"We've always spoken about peaking towards the back end of the tournament, and we're still searching for that perfect performance. We're not quite there yet," he said.
"We're showing glimpses of what we are capable of with the ball and with the bat and in the field, but we have still got room to improve, and that's exciting for this group.
"We've got to play our best game in the semi now and hopefully better that in the final, and that's what tournament play is all about."
(Writing by Amlan Chakraborty, editing by Ian Chadband)