Head and heart, Australia had both | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Head and heart, Australia had both

Nov 20, 2023 01:22 PM IST

Two and a quarter matches into the campaign, it felt like it might already be hurtling towards a finish. But who really believes such things about Australia?

Australia is a great cricket nation and Travis Head played an innings worthy of it. Patrick Cummins is a great cricketer and a wonderful captain and he led as a worthy representative of it. No doubt India is strewn with the debris of broken expectation, but it is never bad form to rejoice in the skill and spirit of others. Head and heart, Australia’s performance for a sixth World Cup title had both. They played a perfect match on the biggest night.

Australian players Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne pose for photographs with the trophy as they celebrate after winning the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 finals at the Narendra Modi Stadium, in Ahmedabad.(PTI)
Australian players Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne pose for photographs with the trophy as they celebrate after winning the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 finals at the Narendra Modi Stadium, in Ahmedabad.(PTI)

It is hard in the moment, with yellow-clad Australian players on the outfield in a shimmering mess of shiny golden paper, to assess Head’s innings against Ricky Ponting’s in the final of 2003 in Johannesburg and Adam Gilchrist’s in the final of 2007 in Bridgetown. It is enough for it to be mentioned alongside. Both of those were statement innings. Head’s was as well, in a different way. Those were two-hour capsules of Australian supremacy. Head’s spoke to

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Australian indestructibility.

Two and a quarter matches into the campaign, it felt like it might already be hurtling towards a finish. But who ever really believes such things about Australia? Certainly not Australia. Having recovered from the early stutter, they were then down and out against Afghanistan in Mumbai. There Glenn Maxwell smacked a double-century while nearly immobile. An Australian, goes an old hitherto undiscovered saying, holds a bat between his teeth and plays on if it keeps his chances of a World Cup alive. Some versions have it as between his eyelids.

Head himself didn’t feature in the first half of the tournament: he was recovering from a broken hand. Then he took the field against New Zealand and cracked a century – in 59 balls. Three days ago he won the Player of the Match Award, for his spin as much as his batting.

Here it was his fielding that gave a sign of things: his catch to remove Rohit Sharma, running backwards at cover, diving, surpassed Kapil Dev’s of Viv Richards in 1983.

Batting, he started off with a pair of stonking cover drives off Jasprit Bumrah, was briefly worked over by Bumrah in his next over, then got himself together to compile a flawless innings even as his team slumped to 47 for 3 and nearly a lakh Indians were in full voice.

Everybody realised the situation was getting serious when Mohammed Shami was reintroduced into the attack halfway into the innings. Shami had taken eight wickets in 52 balls against left-handers in the tournament leading up to the match. He added another here, with David Warner from his second ball, and the magic touch was expected to extend to Head.

Instead, Head spanked him straight back for a lofted four. It was difficult to tell what was the starker sound, the one of the shot or the silence that followed it. The strokes began to flow harder and faster. Chabuk drives, pickups, slog sweeps, pulls, straight drives, down the track lofts, to spin and pace alike. By the end he was taking the proverbial. When he was out two runs short of the win, his partner Marnus Labuschagne chased after him, stopped him, hugged him, escorted him halfway to the dugout and stood and kept applauding till he crossed the ropes. It was all very matey, movingly so.

No less Australian, in spirit if not style, was their clawback in the first innings. Many of us were surprised, in the first place, when Cummins decided to stick India in. There was the conventional wisdom of runs on the board in a big match. There was also the possibility, as in the semi-final against South Africa, that batting against spinners might be difficult on a slow pitch that has seen half a day’s cricket.

But Cummins read the conditions dead right. India mounted 80 runs in the first ten overs, but with the field out and the surface playing slower, Australia applied a smart and slow squeeze. In the second Powerplay they conceded two boundaries. Two in thirty overs! Lately bowlers have been struggling to contain the Indian batters to two boundaries in a single over.

Cummins was superbly unorthodox through these middle overs. Consider his switching of bowlers in this stretch between the 18th and the 26th overs.

Maxwell came on for Zampa, Hazlewood came on for Cummins, Marsh replaced Maxwell, Hazlewood stayed on, Head came on for Marsh, Starc replaced Hazlewood, Marsh came back on for Head, Maxwell came back on for Cummins, Zampa came back on for Marsh.

He kept shuffling his deck in this way, and India just could not find a Get Out of Jail card. At some point it may have occurred to Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma that they may have been too clever by half with their efforts to game the surface.

Which is not to say that on another surface Australia would not have found a way. Find ways is what they do. By 9pm, with 30-odd runs still to go, the crowd had reconciled themselves to this principle too.

They began to file away in their replica jerseys. The stadium began to bleed blue, leaving in its wake, as if in a time-lapse display, a matrix of orange. As the World Cup had started so it would finish, with empty seats at the Narendra Modi Stadium. As I type the lights are going out. Australia had, as they had wanted, silenced the crowds all the way to fade to black.

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