Head stars as Australia are champions of the world, despair for hosts India
Having started the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup with back-to-back defeats, Australia will leave the tournament carrying the trophy back to Melbourne after defeating India by six wickets in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
Australia delivered their two best performances of the tournament against South Africa in the semifinal and India in the final. Those matches they lost in the first week, coincidentally, were against India and South Africa.
Sunday’s triumph began with the ball, after Pat Cummins’s somewhat surprising decision to bowl after winning the toss. It continued with another aggressive effort in the field, then was finished off with a calculated partnership between Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne that sucked the life out of Rohit Sharma’s side and the joy out of nation that had been swept into a fervour by India’s 10-match winning streak in the tournament.
Australia, however, win the matches that matter and at the Narendra Modi Stadium they used every ounce of street smarts and skill to silence a crowd of over 100,000 people.
Head was sublime, hanging on through a pair of bruising new ball spells from Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami to become just the seventh batter, and third Australian, to score a century in a World Cup final.
He finished on 137 off 120 balls, hitting 15 fours and four sixes and was selflessly seeking another boundary when he was caught at deep midwicket with Australia needing just two to win.
The triumphant moment went to Glenn Maxwell, whose outrageous double hundred against Afghanistan had given Australia the belief they needed.
Having got through that period against the new ball, when Bumrah and Shami had reduced Australia to 47/3 in the seventh over, Head, progressively grew in confidence. He crisply struck the ball into gaps and took singles, then located the boundary against the spinners to turn the momentum and the volume off as far as the crowd was concerned.
It was an effort of high quality in which there wasn’t the all-out aggression for which he is known, but was notable for how he waited for India to bowl in the areas he was most comfortable hitting. The innings changed on one shot, a slog sweep that Head struck off Kuldeep Yadav for six in the 16th over that shocked the hosts at a time when they were still feeling in control.
With Labuschagne not venturing beyond knocking the ball into gaps for singles, or just dropping it at his feet to do the same, India had their dreams taken apart bit by bit.
By the second drinks break the seats started emptying and it was the few hundred Australian fans who were dancing.
Head and Labuschagne’s partnership was worth 192 runs. Labuschagne was not out on 58 at the end.
Cummins’s decision at the toss was based on dew settling in after sunset, which would speed up the pace off the pitch and also nullify the threat of the India spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep.
But Cummins also needed his bowlers and fielders to be as precise and aggressive as they had been in the opening passage of the semifinal in Kolkata. That they largely were, despite another stunning assault from Rohit Sharma in which the Indian captain scored 47 off 31 balls.
Along with the opening bursts from Bumrah and Shami, it was the only period when India might have felt on top and that the crowd were really into the match.
Otherwise Australia controlled this final beautifully. Their plans with the ball were outstanding, using the bouncer and changes of pace on a sluggish surface to make scoring uncomfortable for India’s glittering array of batting stars.
Virat Kohli didn’t add to his five centuries in this tournament, making 54 before chopping a short ball from Cummins onto his stumps.
The silence that enveloped the stadium was music to Australian ears. KL Rahul couldn’t get going and scored 66 off 107 balls and, along with a number of errors behind the stumps later, this was a match he would rather forget.
Head delivered. Having been player of the match in the semifinal, he backed that up with a player of the match performance in the final — his catch that led to Rohit’s dismissal was another crucial moment.
Australia are One-Day World Cup winners for the sixth time and having won the World Test Championship earlier in the year — also beating India, where Head was also player of the match — there can be no disputing which is the best cricket team on the planet.
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