As Pat Cummins and his players basked in the pursuit of Australia’s sixth men’s World Cup title – arguably their biggest contender – thousands of Indian supporters poured out of this massive cricket coliseum in a state of disbelief.
Gone was the notion that this day was fulfilling India’s destiny in their home competition, a fine team with all-time greats – Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, no less – saw them run sharp of 10 consecutive victories at the end. Cummins, a Blue Mountains boy in a sea of blue shirts, had taken great care of a truly famous heist.
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Even after India skidded and scraped their way to 240 all out on a bleak, slow pitch, their adoration, if mostly reactive supporters had immediate cause for hope. Starting the chase that has characterized all of India’s tour up to this point, Bumrah and Mohammed Shami produced what looked like match-winning performances.
But from a total of 47 for three from seven wickets – Steve Smith was the last to fall lbw and not call the review to save it – two batsmen in Head Travis and Marnus Labuschagne showed the kind of resilience and it’s a skill. Australian cricket history like the words three canary yellow rock stick.
Head missed the first five games of the tournament with a broken arm but Cummins, knowing his worth, did not flinch. And the gamble to keep the spot open paid off in the end, a masterful 137 from 120 balls – alloyed by Labuschagne’s 58 not out – teasing out the target, four wickets down and seven to spare.
As Labuschagne languished at one end, easing the Indian spinners, the South Australian right-leg with the pregnant mustache took on the more dangerous role, hitting 15 fours and four sixes. Among them were four who welcomed Shami’s crucial return in the 24th over, One that sent him back from where he came en route to his 95-ball century.
The one was just two goals short of the goal but if anything, it gave him a deserved solo moment in the spotlight; a chance for the remaining supporters to pay their dues. Kohli graciously raced up to offer a pat on the back, Head having become the third Australian man after Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting to score decades in a World Cup final.
The coup de grace instead came from Glenn Maxwell, after a powerful 192-run fourth-wicket stand, slogging his first ball off square off Mohammed Siraj. Cue rush of teammates on the field as Sharma’s men were initially standing there a little stunned. A handshake followed, naturally, but this scene wasn’t very much in the script.
If Head and Labuschagne were Australia’s toast to the world – the spark for a spectacular light show that lifted the agony for India – then Cummins’ fingerprints were all over this world.
In a year when he lifted the mace for the World Test Championship and retained England’s Ashes, this feat – to walk into India’s supposed coronation home and snatch the crown – is certainly top notch.
Cummins first raised quite a few eyebrows when, after an aerial display of aerobatics by the Indian air force’s 52nd squadron, he won the toss and did the two-finger up gesture to bowl. Those thoughts were boosted when his opposite number, Sharma, put on a bit of a show of his own, booming three sixes in a 31-ball 47 before being cut by a combination of Maxwell and a dazzling tumbling Head.
However, Sharma’s early raids had triggered an avalanche of Indian runs in the previous tournament and the crowd was hoping for a repeat. But Cummins kept his nerve. He used his resources wisely, especially when he saw when one of the balls started to reverse and was pushed into the hands of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. The pair were sublime, sharing five wickets as Cummins claimed two for 34.
Among them came one of the many times that the ground turned into the world’s greatest library, as Kohli, having settled in to reach 54 off 63, heard the cannons of defense on his stumps. The Indian icon saw his record total of runs in this tournament end at 765, taking an eternity to pull himself from the middle.
He came 29 overs into what turned out to be a tough outing for India, an 80-run powerplay of 12 boundaries instead of a 40-over torturous grind that yielded just four more. Once again Australia delivered a live-wire display, Josh Inglis became the first bowler to claim five catches in a World Cup final, and Adam Zampa claimed his 23rd wicket of the campaign to equal Muttiah Muralitharan’s record as a male spinner .
The struggle for India, which started well after Cummins hit Shreyas Iyer’s third ball in the 11th over, was summed up by the usually fluent KL Rahul’s 107-ball 66 which saw just one four hit. A late surge could have followed, but the old bowling of Starc and Hazlewood excelled to push things back again and again.
A score on the board and Australia’s deficits against the spin of the sub-division still gave India a level playing field, the pendulum swinging even as David Warner, Mitch Marsh and Smith were quickly vaporised. Australia, looking to break the back of the chase early, were all over the shop initially, summed up by Smith’s error.
But an Indian team that had struggled to draft (but finally) drafted in Ravichandran Ashwin for this moonlit surface overnight failed to create another worthwhile chance. Instead, Yin and Labuschagne quietly built a partnership and victory that will go down in their country’s folklore, including victories in 1987, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015.
All that was left for India was to collect their medals in second place and watch as their prime minister, the man whose name adorns this huge ground in Ahmedabad, took the Cup A well deserved Cummins World. At the end of what seemed to be a 46-day extravaganza for the hosts came a reminder that nothing is predetermined in sport.