India 240 (Rahul 66, Kohli 54, Starc 3-55, Cummins 2-34, Hazlewood 2-60) lost against Australia 241 for 4 (Head 137, Labuschagne 58*, Bumrah 2-43) by six wickets.
The heart of the game may now be in India, but Australians have once again proven to have the coolest heads in cricket. Specifically, Travis Head, whose victorious innings of 137 from 120 balls in Ahmedabad set up his team’s record-breaking sixth World Cup victory. However, his most important contribution may have occurred around six and a half hours earlier when he made one of the most game-changing catches in ODI history.
If Head hadn’t hung onto a steepling, sprawling take and gone backwards into the covers to dismiss India’s captain, Rohit Sharma, in his prime, what may have happened to these two teams? Australia’s final target of 241 would have undoubtedly been much higher, and judging from the ferocity with which India’s new-ball bowlers tore into their opponents during the powerplay, with Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah unavoidably leading the way, there would have been even more opportunities for their chase to have tipped over the edge.
Rather of giving up, Head persisted, so putting a damper on an innings that was gaining momentum and would never entirely slow down. India had blazed to 80 for 2 in the opening powerplay while Rohit was in charge, amassing 10 fours and three sixes. After his departure, India managed to score 160 runs in the next 40 overs with just four more fours. The main reason Pat Cummins had taken a chance by letting Rohit and company set the agenda in the first place was because they could not post a total large enough to counteract the unavoidable arrival of dew.
As a result, Australia won easily in the end, needing just six wickets remaining and an astounding 42 balls unused. Had Head not been dismissed on the penultimate delivery of the chase, the margin would have been even higher. Unfazed, Glenn Maxwell hit his opening ball for two to lead his team to a win target that, as luck would have it, coincided with the same amount that England and New Zealand had failed to divide by traditional methods four years prior.
However, the easiness of the ending concealed the danger that had come before it. After seven overs, Australia was 47 for 3, facing two of the standout players from India’s historic campaign. Bumrah was clearly out of position when he was given out, and Steven Smith erroneously chose not to review the leg-before-bowl.
For the first time in the game, the crowd was in full voice as David Warner, in what might be his final ODI innings, scuffed Shami’s first legitimate delivery to Virat Kohli at slip for 7. Mitchell Marsh’s attempt to hit the quicks off their lengths ended in a loose cut through to the keeper. Warner had earlier fenced his own first ball of the innings (from Bumrah) past the same fielder’s boot for four.
Despite the perception that he and Head were fighting for a single spot mid-tournament, Marnus Labuschagne, who was kept in Australia’s starting XI, demonstrated the worth of his Test pre-eminence with an unstoppable 58 not out off 110 balls. He and Head maintained their critical fourth-wicket partnership of 192 over by over, seeing off both pace and spin until, at an indeterminate point around the chase’s 20th over, the bite in a two-paced pitch gave way to the even-sprayed skid of the long-promised dew.
As Australia started to pull away at 148 for 3, Bumrah came back for the final over (the 28th over) and was met with three lopsided fours from Head. This came after a torturous umpire’s call appeal for leg before wicket against Labuschagne, which felt like the last evidence that India had any chance left.
In the end, it was a clinical and mercilessly brutal performance by the most fearsome winners in the history of the game, one that killed passion. From the sea of blue in the stands of the Narendra Modi Stadium to the anticipatory attendance of the PM himself, every man in Australia’s XI did his bit to drain the life out of a match that seemed, to put it mildly, like a coronation. Rather, a 92,453-strong crowd met the match’s final hour in stunned silence, and the trophy lift itself perfectly encapsulated the sense of national anticlimax. Cummins was left looking forlorn on the podium for a full twenty seconds before his team could join him after shaking hands away from the spotlight.
Not that Australia’s sense of achievement will be dashed by the absence of in-situ accolades. The game field again set the tone for their victory, as Head’s crucial grab would prove in the end. The 37-year-old Warner was their barometer, as he had been in the semi-final match against South Africa, throwing himself enthusiastically to cut off multiple boundary balls. However, with Rohit on deck, it appeared that Cummins’ gallant decision to bowl first might be quickly overpowered, as had been the case for so many opponents before them, by India’s incredible weight of strokemakers.
Rather, he trusted his bowlers to finish what they had begun in their historic tournament debut in Chennai, where the top three players in India had all fallen for ducks and were reduced to 2 for 3, only to have their mediocre goal of 200 easily dismissed. Despite the dew, he anticipated that this time, the weight of the momentous event may be heavier in the first innings than the second, particularly if his attack could provide some early breakthroughs.
Because of this, Rohit’s brief attack was all the more daring—selfless even—as he took full responsibility for India’s powerplay proactivity, especially against Josh Hazlewood, who was the catalyst for that collapse in Chennai. He charged down the pitch to face his hard lengths in a manner reminiscent of Sachin Tendulkar’s preemptive attack on Glenn McGrath in the 2003 final, but for a little period of time, it appeared to be working.
But then came the match’s most decisive moment, a display of fielding mastery that could not be immediately compared to Kapil Dev’s sprinting catch off Viv Richards at the crucial moment in the 1983 championship. When Rohit miscued a high out into the covers after stepping into another smash over the long-off boundary in Glenn Maxwell’s second over, he had already hammered ten runs in two balls. Travis Head perfectly timed his dive to hang on with both hands as he tracked back from point, the ball skewing high over his shoulder, and his eyes never leaving the prize.
It will be remembered as a pivotal World Cup experience. Even though Australia had already given up the joint-highest amount of runs in the opening powerplay of a World Cup final, 80 runs, they felt they had a chance to alter the tide of the match. After two balls, Cummins found Shreyas Iyer’s edge in his second over, poking without conviction or good footwork. At three down in the eleventh, Hardik Pandya’s absence as India’s lower-order pivot was suddenly exposed as the weakness that Shami’s incredible impact with the ball had previously concealed. Shubman Gill had already gone to a flimsy pull off Mitchell Starc.
There had been no such anxiety during the ten prior tournament victories for India, which included five trouble-free chases to start the season and five wins by a net margin of 875 runs in their five subsequent bat-first contests. Because of this, India’s Nos. 6–11 had hardly been used in those matches, amassing the lowest total of 240 runs among all teams in this tournament. Suddenly, though, none of their set batsmen dared to be the ones to initiate that slide down the tail, with Shami and Bumrah locked in at Nos. 8 and 9.
India had, at least, a man whose pacing in such situations could be relied upon in Kohli. Even with his impressive tournament total of 765 runs at 95.62 on his team’s best days, his unwavering commitment to scoring runs had been misinterpreted as a flaw. His 56-ball fifty was now the cornerstone of his team’s comeback, even though the nervous clamour that had preceded his most recent milestone was only intensified by it.
However, Australia’s outstanding assault was unstoppable, particularly after Cummins had taken advantage of his opponents’ apparent hesitation to slip past a flurry of replacement bowlers. Maxwell, Head, and Marsh combined to smash ten overs for 44, establishing an ideal holding pattern that restored alternatives for the remaining part of the innings.
For the 29th over, the captain himself made a comeback. After Cummins hit an awkward length with his short ball on the third ball of his second spell, Kohli appeared visibly upset as he under-edged onto his stumps with an angled bat, glared at the length from which it had lifted, and then trudged off, seemingly evaluating the pull shot he had decided to keep in his locker.
KK While Rahul broke a 97-ball stretch without a boundary by lifting Maxwell over his shoulder with a fine leg for four, he was hardly able to unfold either. This was India’s longest barren spell between overs 11 and 50 since 1999, and the longest for any team in the tournament save the Netherlands.
However, on 66, he and the lower rank faced yet another peril, one that India’s seamen would have to forgo. The curators had allowed for the prospect of reverse-swing by constructing a deck that was obviously dry and abrasive for this final, and Australia is one of the teams with the most enthusiastic players. Rounding the wicket, Starc sent an unplayable delivery straight onto Rahul’s edge and beyond the keeper.
Even though Ravindra Jadeja is known for being a scrapper in these situations, Hazlewood’s similarly late movement was too much for him to overcome when he was promoted to No. 6. He survived one review for being caught behind, but then gave up to the very next ball for six, and India’s seamless run to the championship ultimately caught up with them. Suryakumar Yadav, who had faced just five balls out of a possible 17 in his ninth-wicket stand with Kuldeep Yadav, ground out 18 from 27 before lobbing Hazlewood to the keeper. At that point, he had no situational experience to fall back on and no pace in the wicket with which to access his inverted V from fine leg to deep third.
The innings was sustained to the very last ball by Kuldeep and Mohammed Siraj, but the atmosphere in the stadium was never able to shake its gloom. Australia arrived prepared, having a firm understanding of what it needed to win the biggest trophy in the sport. Ahmedabad did indeed turn blue, if only with a nostalgic feeling for what could have been.