India's heartbreak at the finish as Australia crowned World Cup champions
Rohit Sharma's side don’t join Kapil Dev and MS Dhoni’s teams as ODI World Cup champions. That honour goes to Australia for a record-extending sixth time
In the end, there was eerie silence. An occasion that was supposed to be the crowning glory for a seemingly unstoppable Indian team, having won ten matches on the trot and entertained through six weeks, concluded with forlorn faces and sullen spirits. India’s dream, criss-crossing nine venues, 11 games and 46 days, remains unfulfilled.
They don’t join Kapil Dev and MS Dhoni’s teams as winners of the ODI World Cup. Skipper Rohit Sharma and his India teammates are runners-up instead, not having the right to claim the tag of world champions. That honour goes to Australia for a record-extending sixth time. And it’s thoroughly deserved – finals are about turning up and putting out your best version.
The Aussies, led by Pat Cummins producing 2/29 including the scalp of Virat Kohli at a critical juncture, did just that. They first restricted the hosts to 240 and then knocked off the target with seven overs to spare and six wickets in hand. Travis Head cracked a counterattacking century and stitched together a partnership of 192 with Marnus Labuschagne for the fourth wicket.
The only blemish in an otherwise stunning innings was that Head couldn’t see it through, holing out in the deep with two runs to get. Glenn Maxwell hit the winning runs off his first ball as the Australian players rushed on to the field to the sound of firecrackers.
India’s radar with the ball wasn’t quite right first up. Swing was on offer to their liking, only Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami didn't control it as well as they can. Still, they had Australia at 47/3 in seven overs. In a riveting period of play, Australia capitalised on the loose deliveries. Often, India kept producing the wicket-taking delivery -- be it Bumrah’s tempter to David Warner that was caught sharply by Virat Kohli at slip, Shami inducing Mitchell Marsh’s outside edge or Bumrah producing a deadly off-cutter that made Steve Smith look just as clueless as Mohammad Rizwan was a month ago. It perhaps scrambled his brain so much that he didn't review, with replays showing the impact was outside off-stump.
Head and Labuschagne, though, regained control with a solid partnership. As the evening wore on, the ball seemed to come on to the bat much better. Primarily due to dew, which was always feared to be a factor at this venue.
India have had many perfect games in this World Cup, but Sunday simply wasn’t their day. They lost the toss and had to bat first, which they will argue had a decisive say in the end. When they batted, the conditions weren’t easy to bat, and reverse swing also aided Australia’s pacers. Kohli and KL Rahul did post fifties, but barring the opening powerplay, momentum was never with them.
Sharma will find that tough to take after getting the team off to a typically swift start. While Mitchell Starc found a hint of inward shape with the new ball, Sharma didn’t hesitate in attacking Josh Hazlewood. In the pacer’s first over, he stepped out and slashed over cover before hoicking a length ball through midwicket for consecutive fours. Next over from Hazlewood, Sharma took full toll of a half-tracker, depositing the ball over midwicket for six.
When Starc dished out a half-tracker to Shubman Gill though, he was rewarded with a wicket. Gill is also strong with horizontal-bat shots, but he could do no better than find Adam Zampa at mid-on. Like Sharma, Kohli was away quickly though, hitting three boundaries in the seventh over off Starc – a whip through mid-on, a punch through point and a drive wide of mid-off. Kohli would quickly make it four fours by carving Maxwell through the point region in his opening over.
When Sharma took ten runs off two balls in the off-spinner's next over, he seemed to be turning on the screws again. Just then, a catch perhaps just as special as Kapil Dev’s to dismiss Viv Richards in the 1983 final changed the course of the game. Sharma tried to find the long-on boundary off Maxwell but miscued high on the off-side. Head sprinted a few metres back from point and dived at full stretch to complete a remarkable catch in the circumstances. For all his chutzpah in this campaign – he hit a 31-ball 47 on Sunday -- he will be disappointed that he has been dismissed five times in the 40s in 11 matches.
At 81/3 in 10.2 overs, India’s run rate was 7.94. But for Kohli – he was on 24 off 21 when the third wicket fell -- and Rahul thereafter, plenty of hard work was in store. With the surface sluggish and the situation precarious, they were made to graft in a partnership of 67 runs in 109 balls, relying on a diet of singles to get the scoreboard ticking.
The barren stretch without a boundary was broken in the 27th over when Rahul lap-swept Maxwell for four through fine leg. A couple of overs later, however, Kohli went wrong with his attempt to run down a short ball off Cummins to third man, inside-edging it instead onto his stumps.
The eventual result will make India reflect on what they could've done better in the final. The Australians, meanwhile, will be partying long and hard into the night.
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