We saw two great semi-finals in the World Cup, and it is fair to say that India and Australia are deserving finalists. They have played the best cricket so far and it will be exciting to see how these two go about their business in the summit clash.
Starting with India, nothing has changed for them. They have been dominant throughout. They are in top form. Runs at the top of the order. Wickets with the ball. Rohit Sharma again led the charge with the bat and set things up for those behind him in the batting order. Mohammed Shami is bowling like a dream. In a nutshell, everything looks perfect as far as India are concerned. It is very hard to find fault in anything.
The only thing that could bring India down in the big final is the weight of expectations. And that’s the thing Australia might want to use to their benefit. I am fascinated by the fact that there will be over 130,000 people at the Narendra Modi stadium, cheering for the home side who have been in superb form, billed as heavy favourites to win the clash and who will they be up against? Five-time champions Australia who have never lost a final of a World Cup. That will be a sight. That will be some game.
I have already said it before that facing India in Indian grounds feels like you are not playing a team but the whole country. The atmosphere will be of the same sort on Sunday.
After India, Australia have been the best side in this tournament. They lost two matches on the trot at the start, but they also showed why they are such a good cricket side, bouncing back with 8 wins in 8 games. What sets Australia apart from many other teams is that they have big match players. I think they have players who handle tight moments better than most.
If this game gets close and tight, that will be Australia’s best chance. They need to compete hard and take the game to a close finish and then see how pressure of expectations is handled by India. That for me is the knub of the contest, in terms of losing and winning.
India are unlikely to make any changes to the playing 11 for the final. I think they are going to stick to the same combinations of Suryakumar Yadav + Mohammed Shami which has worked wonders for them since the injury to Hardik Pandya. Also, making any change is very difficult as it throws off the balance of the side. What they could try and do is give the brand-new ball to Mohammed Shami and not use him as first change. But I don’t think the management and captain would change that too.
Where India can prey on the Australians are the middle overs. With right-hand heavy middle order of Australia, India will try and use Ravindra Jadeja to create a big impact. Jadeja vs the Australian middle order in the middle overs could be a crucial moment in the game.
Likewise, Australia can do the same with the help of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood at the start with the ball. India have not faced big pressure at the start or in the middle overs because they have been so good from start to finish. But if Australia can barge the door down and put India under pressure at the start, that will be their opportunity to get on top of the side who have played so brilliantly. In this final, it is very important to work on the small margins and capitalise on the small areas to create pressure.
Australia’s top order and bowling attack has looked in good touch. David Warner and Travis Head are among runs. Mitch Marsh has shown brilliance every now and then. It is the middle order which is a concern for Australia. Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne have not made significant contributions so far. Why Australia is sticking with these combinations is because they don’t want to get too vulnerable in the middle overs. Hence, no Marcus Stoinis in the XI.
The one point of difference between the two sides in this World Cup is that India have played a complete game while Australia have relied on individual brilliance so far to win games. A Glenn Maxwell special, an Adam Zampa show, Travis Head hundred or Warner’s brilliance among other performances has won them matches on different occasions. On the other hand, all of India batters have got runs, everyone in the bowling department has chipped in. That’s why they have been the best side in this World Cup. Australia, at the same time, still have not played the complete game all teams strive for and would hope to make that happen in the final.
On paper, it looks like India will walk away with the trophy on current form. However, with Australia in the final, the side which has resilience and temperament to play the big final, I think the final will be tighter and closer than what many would think.