LAWRENCE BOOTH: Imperious India appear destined to lift the World Cup in front of their home crowd… but Pat Cummins’ Australia would love nothing more than to spoil the party and break a billion hearts in Sunday’s final
- India enter Sunday’s World Cup final as favourites after winning all their games
- They have appeared destined to win the tournament from the outset
- But Australia are serial winners, and will be intent on spoiling the party
If one soundbite has summed up this World Cup, it came on the eve of Sunday’s final between India and Australia.
With not far off 100,000 fans – almost exclusively Indian – expected at Ahmedabad’s cavernous Narendra Modi Stadium, Australia’s captain Pat Cummins was asked how his team would cope. ‘There’s nothing more satisfying,’ he said, ‘than hearing a big crowd go quiet.’
And there it was, the dichotomy at the heart of a tournament that has been designed with only one outcome in mind. Should India confirm their status as the World Cup’s best team, the euphoria will be deafening. As will the silence if they fail.
There may be no team better equipped to poop India’s party than the Australians, with their trophy-winning heritage and their big-game nous – evident once again during Thursday’s narrow semi-final win over South Africa in Kolkata.
But it will be an unwelcome departure from a narrative arc that is apparently bending in one direction: towards the presentation of the trophy to Indian captain Rohit Sharma by prime minister Modi.
Virat Kohli (left) and Rohit Sharma (right) have been in stunning form as India have breezed into Sunday’s final
But Australia are serial winners, and Pat Cummins (right) will believe his side can spoil India’s party
Several hours before that, the skies above the ground named after him will echo to the sound of military aircraft, buzzing about like the Red Arrows. Modi is seeking re-election in the spring, and his association with a display of Indian soft power will do no harm. Now he just needs his cricketers to play their part.
None of this is to detract from an outstanding Indian team, who have won 10 out of 10 and – unlike Australia – have nothing resembling a weak link.
There have been some decent storylines over the last few weeks, even if they have struggled to bear the load during a marathon 39-day, 45-match group stage.
The rise of Afghanistan and the fall of England; victory for the Netherlands over South Africa; Virat Kohli’s ascent to a world-record 50 ODI centuries; the Sri Lankan Angelo Mathews’s astonishing timed-out dismissal against Bangladesh; the smog, the pitches, the crowds, growing all the time in size and noise.
The cricket, meanwhile, has taken place against a backdrop of concern about the 50-over format, though that has faded. When the ICC board meet next week, there will be no great discussion about ditching it. While India remain interested – and they will also host the 2031 competition – ODIs are safe.
The World Cup has produced some intriguing storylines, with England falling well short in the defence of their title
Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews (right) was also left furious after becoming the first player in international cricket to be timed out
Besides, their dominance has provided this World Cup with its common thread. Try telling fans here that there haven’t been enough close matches, or that the Indian board have been undermining the ICC’s pitch consultant Andy Atkinson, or that the ticketing arrangements have been farcical, or that Pakistan have been treated like pariahs.
Atkinson’s wishes have been respected for this game, with the final taking place on a surface used only once – not that many here seem too fussed either way.
No, what matters is that India are a game away from fulfilling the destiny many believe is theirs. Kapil Dev and MS Dhoni, their previous two World Cup-winning captains, will be here, and the expectation is that Sharma will join their ranks.
If India play to their potential, it’s hard to see how Australia can resist them. Sharma himself has repeatedly given his side a rapid start, while Kohli has amassed 711 runs – a record at a World Cup – and averaged over 100.
He, above all, is the competition’s poster boy, and embodies the qualities that have shaped modern India: supreme confidence, and a refusal to kowtow to the old power structures.
When he equalled Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI hundreds, against South Africa, one headline declared: ‘King level with God.’ When he broke it, in the semi-final against New Zealand, India went into meltdown. He has passed 50 in eight of his 10 innings, and his fans will regard anything less on Sunday as a giant letdown.
India’s spinners Ravindra Jadeja (left) and Kuldeep Yadav (right) have been superb
Mohammed Shami (pictured) has also been outstanding, and it is hard to spot a weakness in the India line-up
India’s spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav, have been predictably superb, but it has been the form of seamer Mohammed Shami that has stolen the headlines. In only six games, he has taken 23 wickets – one more than Australian leg-spinner Adam Zampa – at nine apiece, including an Indian-record seven in the semi-final.
Australia’s chances seem to hinge on several of these galacticos have an off-day at the same time. And yet they will also know they, of all the teams, came closest to troubling India during the group stage.
Back in early October at Chennai, they reduced India to two for three in pursuit of 200, and would have had them 20 for four had Mitchell Marsh not dropped a straightforward catch off Kohli.
Kohli made 85 that day as India strolled home. Australia know that the window of opportunity in Ahmedabad is likely to be just as small. Seizing it may be their only chance of breaking a billion hearts, and providing the mother of all plot twists.
Australia will need some of India’s players to have an off-day, and their own players to step up, including Glenn Maxwell (pictured)
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