The Australian cricket team and 50-over World Cup titles seem to be synonymous. Before the summit clash against India, Australia had five titles, and now they have added one more with a crushing six-wicket win in front of a humongous home crowd in Ahmedabad.
Travis Head was the man of the moment for Australia, scoring a game-changing 137. He also took a brilliant catch to dismiss Rohit Sharma. Meanwhile, Marnus Labuschagne turned out to be the supporting cast for Head as the duo put on a game-breaking 192-run stand. Earlier, the bowlers too had done their job by using the slow nature of the pitch to their advantage.
So, where did it go wrong for India? The side that had come into the final on the back of 10 wins in a row. We have to delve deeper and look back at the opening match at the same ground between England versus New Zealand. The dew came into play by around 7 PM in that game and it skidded through for most part of New Zealand’s innings, making the target of 283 seem like a walk in the park. In the final too, the ball skidded through enough and the conditions got better when Australia batted.
But that doesn’t take the credit away from Head’s masterclass. The one bowler who looked set to trouble him was Mohammed Shami. On expected lines, the Indian fast bowler went round the wicket while bowling to the southpaw. Head was opened up on the defence, a few times the ball jagged back in and he also ended up playing with an angled bat. But at no point of time, it seemed as if Head was going to throw his wicket away. He was ready to play ugly in order to survive.
Even after David Warner and Mitchell Marsh gifted their wickets away, Head didn’t lose his concentration. A while later, Steven Smith was trapped in front by an excellent slower one from Jasprit Bumrah. Replays suggested the impact was outside the line of off-stump. Just that Smith didn’t opt for the review. At the other end, Head remained undaunted by all that was happening around him.
He found an able ally in Labuschagne. Having lost three early wickets, Head and Labuschagne tried to play with a degree of caution, especially against the spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. It was in the 16th over when Head decided to press the accelerator, landing a superbly timed slog-sweep off Kuldeep.
Mohammed Siraj, who replaced Jadeja, also decided to bowl from round the wicket to Head. However, unlike Shami, he couldn’t tuck up the batter as Head brought out a half-pull, half-slog to crack a boundary. By then, dew too had taken its effect as Head and to an extent Labuschagne played a volley of shots. Even Shami, who had given enough headaches to Head in his opening spell, couldn’t stop the onslaught. The highlight of Head’s stroke-play during that phase was a lofted shot that went as straight as an arrow and crashed into the boundary boards.
The spinners weren’t spared either as Head collected a couple of fours in the 34th over off Kuldeep before cracking a stunning hundred with a single. With less than 50 runs left for victory, the outcome of the match was more or less a foregone conclusion. There was a bit of anti-climax in the end as Head holed out to Shubman Gill at deep mid-wicket. Glenn Maxwell duly provided the finishing touches with a double.
As soon as Maxwell hit the winning runs, the Australian players ran on to the ground to celebrate the moment. Josh Inglis was the one who won the sprint to congratulate his teammates in the middle while the rest followed him. On the other hand, there was despair in the Indian camp. Siraj was in tears, while KL Rahul was on his knees and Virat Kohli seemed to be in a state of shock. It was a case of so near, yet so far for India.
Just a few hours earlier, things seemed much brighter for the Indian side. Although India lost the toss, Rohit Sharma once more blazed his way to a 31-ball 47. He even charged down the deck to Josh Hazlewood, the metronome, to disrupt his length. In the 10th over, he tonked Maxwell for a six and a boundary. But he tried one too many and was dismissed by the same bowler.
A large share of the credit for that wicket has to go to Head, who grabbed a catch after running quite a bit of distance from cover point. Some 40 years ago, Kapil Dev had taken a blinder to remove Viv Richards and that had changed the complexion of the game. Head did something similar in Ahmedabad.
With the track gripping and holding up on the batter, the Indian batters couldn’t find the boundaries regularly. In fact, between over number 10 to 38, India could add just two more boundaries to their tally. On the other hand, Cummins made some clever bowling changes and didn’t allow the batters to settle into a rhythm.
Cummins himself hit the deck hard and mixed it up with cutters to finish with a two-for. Starc, his pace colleague, found swing with the old ball and took a three-for. The wicket to dismiss Rahul in particular was a peach as it came in with the angle from round the wicket and left the batter late to take the edge. Hazlewood also generated some reverse swing in the slog overs and used the short ball judiciously to take a two-for. Australia’s fielding was slick. For India, Kohli and Rahul compiled fifties. But Rahul did take 107 balls for his 66.
India have some soul-searching to do. In hindsight, India should have played with a bit more bravado in the middle overs, even though the conditions weren’t easy. Also, the curator perhaps left the pitch too dry, especially a couple of patches. A flatter wicket would have given the side batting first a better chance of getting a score of over 300.