November 20, 2023
NEW DELHI – It’s been a 10-year-long wait for an ICC silverware, 12 for a 50-over World Cup….and the wait continues as Australia braved a partisan crowd at the Narendra Modi Stadium to make light work of India when it mattered the most and walk away with the 2023 World Cup champions title – their sixth in the 50-over format.
For those cricket fans in their mid-30s, who were in their teenage years and cried themselves to sleep the night of March 23, 2003, Travis Head rubbed salt to India’s wounds with a match-winning century to take the Kangaroos home by six wickets, bringing back memories of Ricky Ponting’s feat in Johannesburg two decades back.
India’s performance on Sunday was only a pale shadow of their dominant self throughout the sporting extravaganza, that started with a six-wicket win against the same opponents in Chennai and went on to win 10 games on the bounce before falling short on the big stage.
On Sunday, the mood at the 1,30,000-filled Narendra Modi Stadium was just the trailer of how a cricket-crazy nation of 1.4 billion held their collective breath together as the invincible force India was up against a mentally-strong Australia amidst a Sea of Blue.
On the eve of the encounter, Australia skipper Pat Cummins had famously said, “Nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent.” He walked the talk on D-Day by restricting India for a sub-par 240 to seize the momentum right after the first powerplay!
While India pulled the strings in the second innings by reducing Australia to 47 for 3, the joy was shortlived as Travis Head anchored the chase with a calculative century. India’s initial change in tactic worked well as Mohammed Shami, used as a first change till Sunday’s final, was employed to operate with the new ball, and he delivered with the key wicket of David Warner before Jasprit Bumrah pecked back the Kangaroos with the wickets of Mitchell Marsh and Steve Smith to loud chants of the crowd.
Finding Australia in a spot, Kohli started goading the crowd to pile up the pressure but Head held his nerves to bring up his half century off 58 deliveries, and found the perfect second fiddle in Marnus Labuschagne to steer the team out of a precarious position.
A couple of boundaries off left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav got Head to 97 before he crossed over for a double to reach 99 and one ball later sprinted for another single to complete his fifth ODI century – one he may never top it!
Immediately after racing to the three-figure mark, Head mounted the pressure on the Indians, launching Ravindra Jadeja for a flat six even as Labuschagne satisfied himself laboring between the 22 yards to bring up a sedate unbeaten 58 off 110 balls, as the fourth wicket partnership of 192 runs eventually took the Aussies to the finish line.
With two needed for Australia’s win, Mohammed Siraj ended Head’s 137-run match winning knock that came off 120 deliveries, laced with 15 fours and four sixes. Glenn Maxwell hit the winning runs with a double off the next ball as the Australian players rushed into the middle to celebrate their World Cup win.
Earlier, pin-drop silence followed the first 10 overs of India’s innings… The reason, Rohit Sharma departed after unleashing carnage at the Motera, and the home team slumped to 81 for 3. A similar lull prevailed 18 overs later, when Virat Kohli just stood there while the Australians swarmed after Cummins silenced the intimidating crowd with the fourth Indian wicket for a score of 148.
Electing to field on a sluggish track, Australia weathered the earlier storm by dismissing Rohit, who got the crowd on its feet with a 31-ball 47, and immediately removed Shreyas Iyer for single digits to put more pressure on the home side, already reeling the loss of Shubman Gill as early as the fifth over of the innings.
Glenn Maxwell, who had been hit for a six and a four off the previous two balls, induced Rohit to miscue the fourth ball of his over into the off side for Travis Head to latch on by running back from cover for a photofinish moment. The stark silence continued for the next few minutes, because in the next over as Iyer (4) nicked one behind off Cummins to take the long walk back. The quick dismissals of Rohit and Shreyas forced the new pair of Kohli and KL Rahul to curb their natural instincts and steady the ship.
For the next 18 overs, the right-handed pair preferred to play risk-free cricket, taking the odd singles, and set the tone with a subdued partnership of 67 runs, in which the only boundary came after a wait of 97 balls since Rohit was dismissed at the end of the powerplay. In the process, Kohli got to his fifth consecutive fifty of the tournament in 56 deliveries, and his career’s 72nd, with a single off Adam Zampa before Rahul finally found the escape route to the boundary by paddle-scooping one behind the keeper off Maxwell.
Sensing the urgency to break the flourishing partnership, Cummins brought himself back into the attack and banged in one short leaving no room for Kohli to free his arms and all he could was to drag back onto the stumps, leaving him and the crowd stunned. Kohli consumed 63 balls for his 54 runs.
KL continued his vigil despite losing Ravindra Jadeja (9), promoted ahead of Suryakumar Yadav, was victimized by the sudden return of reverse swing in one-day cricket ever since the rule of two new balls was introduced into the game. With Suryakumar in company, Rahul found the opportunity to get to a patient half century off 86 deliveries, and looked set to switch gears in the final 10 as India managed to scrape past the 200-run mark.
However, in an anti-climax, the hopes of acceleration towards the fag end of the innings, evaporated once Rahul nicked one back off Starc after scoring 66 off 107 balls, before the tailenders Mohammed Shami (6), Jasprit Bumrah (1) also departed cheaply. Yadav, in a pale shadow of a T20 marauder, spent most of his time at the non-strikers end, and only managed a sluggish 27-ball 18 to end any hopes of any late order fireworks.