For any multi-team sporting competition, you want to see the two best teams at the pinnacle. It just feels right, no matter where your allegiance lies. A final of a tournament should, fittingly, have the two most competitive and deserving teams contesting it. And thus, the final of the 2023 ODI World Cup has its two most deserving and successful teams.
India got their first, having staved off New Zealand’s threat in the Mumbai semi-final to make it ten victories in a row. Australia joined them after averting a disaster against South Africa in the Kolkata semi-final to extend their winning streak to eight matches. In the first World Cup final between these two nations since 2003, there is another quirky similarity: two decades ago, Australia won ten in a row and India won eight on the trot. Ricky Ponting’s team decimated India in the final, and now those Indian fans who believe in revenge and all that are wondering if the tables will be adversely changed in 2023.
Comparisons are odious, so goes the saying, so let’s just forget 2003. This Indian team led by Rohit Sharma had a tremendous home advantage before the World Cup began – since 2015, only Australia have managed to come to India and win an ODI series – but more critically, this is a squad of 15 with such depth and variety that it makes it extremely difficult to beat. And unlike the batch of 2011 that won the World Cup under MS Dhoni’s brilliant watch, this current team is contributing as a unit. The burden has been shared, which stands out the most.
This team has no apparent flaws and has almost every box ticked. It has the greatest number of players, from 1 to 11, in form. It has a leader in Rohit who has captained admirably while delivering with the bat (550 runs at an average of 55) with the highest strike-rate of all openers this World Cup. It has Virat Kohli, setting records for fun while scoring 711 runs at 101.57, and a re-energised No 4 in Shreyas Iyer. It has three quicks who have been massive in this 10-0 scoreline, with Jasprit Bumrah taking 18 wickets at 18.3 apiece, Mohammed Shami boggling the mind with 23 at just 9.1 and Mohammed Siraj with 13 at 32.6.
When your least potent batsman in Shubman Gill still averages 50 in the tournament, things are more than alright. When you dominate a World Cup group stage with nine wins in a row, you are obviously doing a lot right. What nine wins does is boost your confidence, naturally, but such a run also makes teams vibe better and stay happy and positive. A loss here or there, particularly when you are India playing at home, can be crippling given the pressure and expectancy. After that unprecedented run, India entered the semi-final against their bogey team New Zealand, and they won that to make it 25 ODI victories in 2023 which is India’s best ever in a calendar year.
Now they face Australia, who on October 15 were ranked ten out of ten on the points table after losing to India and South Africa. The second-best team in the World Cup, statistically, and perhaps more tellingly, one that has professionalism in its DNA.
When these two teams met on October 8, India won comfortably in the end thanks to an unbeaten 97 from KL Rahul and 85 from Virat Kohli, but earlier they had been reduced to 2/3 inside the first two overs. Josh Hazlewood, who trapped Rohit lbw for a duck and then added Shreyas Iyer for a blob, believes that such a top-order wobble is a reason for Australia to believe they can be beaten in the final.
Like Rohit, David Warner has tried his best to provide Australia strong starts in the Powerplay overs and that was again vital in the Kolkata semi-final. Chasing 213, Australia knew the task was not easy on that specific pitch against that South African bowling unit, and so Warner and Travis Head smashed 60 runs in the first six overs. On Sunday in Ahmedabad, Warner and Head will have a similarly difficult task in facing India’s trio of fast bowlers but they will believe.
Australian teams do not throw in the towel, and where they score over India is in having more experience in winning on the big stage. Earlier this summer, Pat Cummins’ team defeated India in the WTC final. In 2021, Australia were written off before the T20 World Cup in the UAE but defied predictions and logic to win the trophy.
All this sets up a tantalizing World Cup final. May the best team win.