Australia wins the ODI World Cup for the sixth time after defeating India by six wickets in the final at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad
Australia were all but written off after losing their first two games in the tournament. Doubts were even cast over skipper Pat Cummins deserving a place in the ODI side. If the idea was to somehow goad the champion side to win a sixth ODI World Cup, it worked.
They did not lose another game in the tournament. Their ninth win on the trot was in Sunday’s final against the home team, India, who were themselves on an unbeaten run in the tournament.
Cummins did not put a foot wrong as the leader. Ignoring a chorus from old-timers to bat first in a big game, he chose to bowl after winning the toss. The vaunted Indian batting unravelled on a tacky wicket under the sun as in previous games on this ground.
The Aussie skipper followed up his decision to bowl first by bravely bringing part-time off-spinner Glenn Maxwell into the powerplay when Rohit Sharma was on the attack. The Indian skipper overreached and perished.
Failures of Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer brought Virat Kohli and K.L. Rahul together, the same pair that rescued India in their tournament opener against Australia on 8 October in Chennai. But they were chasing a small total then, whereas here they had to set a target.
An over-cautious approach played into Cummins’ hands. He got Kohli with a short ball and the Indian innings fizzled out for 240.
Australia lost three early wickets to the Indian new ball attack of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. But then the batting conditions eased as the evening wore on and the dew settled in. If the curator at the Narendra Modi stadium laid out an underprepared wicket to help the Indian spinners, it backfired. The toss became such a big factor because batting first was relatively so much harder on that wicket.
Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne enjoyed the advantage of batting later in the evening to canter to victory with a 192-run partnership. They both edged Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja, but India had no slip for the spinners. This was uncharacteristically defensive from Sharma, especially in a situation where containment could not win the game for India.
Cummins’ Finest Hour
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. And that was Cummins whose leadership doesn’t get acknowledged enough. “I love it when people doubt me. It makes me work harder to prove them wrong.” That could well be attributed to Cummins, although the quote is from former baseball star Derek Jeter.
Cummins came into this World Cup with captaincy in just four ODIs under his belt. He even admitted candidly that he was still coming to grips with the nuances of the format. Commentators latched on to that remark as an indicator of lack of confidence.
Criticism of Cummins snowballed after Australia lost their first two matches against India and South Africa. Former captain Michael Clarke even claimed in an Australian radio show that he had heard the skipper would be dropped from the side for the third game. But Cummins not only took the field but played a crucial role in turning the game against Sri Lanka.
That set Australia off on a winning run of nine games right through the final, overcoming all challenges in different conditions and circumstances. Cummins thus showed again the folly of writing him off. Earlier this year, he had similarly answered questions about the wisdom of appointing a fast bowler as captain, by winning the World Test Championship final against India.
His ODI captaincy improved through the tournament. His introduction of part-time-off-spinner Travis Head to lure Heinrich Klaasen into dropping his guard, was the turning point in the semi-final against South Africa. And in the final, bringing on Maxwell in the powerplay took the wind out of India’s sails.
Australia are deserving champions with gutsy team selection playing an important part. Travis Head was included in the World Cup squad even before he had recovered from a fractured hand. He entered the World Cup only on 28 October in Australia’s sixth game against New Zealand in Dharamsala. His match-winning century there vindicated the Aussie decision. And he was the player of the final, turning the game with a glorious catch to dismiss the Indian captain, and then snuffing India out by scoring 137 in 120 balls.
Australia’s champion attitude came through at different times in the tournament when the going got tough. None more so than Glenn Maxwell’s unbeaten double century to rescue Australia from 91/7 in a run chase of nearly 300 against Afghanistan in Mumbai on 7 November. Half those runs were scored on one leg, battling cramps. It was a statement about the Aussie spirit beyond words.
What next for India then? Coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma can hold their heads high for winning 10 out of 11 World Cup games, one more than Australia, even if that did not give them the trophy. Unfortunately, their loss came at the end.
Even if they were tactically wrong to leave out strike bowler Mohammed Shami in the first half of the tournament, the strength of the unit was such that they still won all their league games. They probably missed a trick by not playing off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in place of Mohammed Siraj on a dry, spin-friendly track in the final. But those are quibbles for another day, when a deeper analysis is made of India’s selection process.
Rohit Sharma led by example, batting with scant regard for personal goals up front. Indian stars have sometimes succumbed to selfish play for individual records, but Sharma made a strong statement on always putting team requirements first.
Looking ahead, it’s likely that stalwarts Sharma and Kohli have played their last ODI World Cup. Probably the same can be said of the highest wicket-taker in the 2023 World Cup, Shami. But India can draw upon a solid core of world-beating batsmen and bowlers. And the IPL will throw up new stars each year.
For now, Kapil Dev and M.S. Dhoni continue to be the only captains with the unique distinction of winning World Cups for India.
Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.