It was once again a case of so near yet so far for the Indian team as they went down in another world event final.
India came into the title clash against Australia as the favourites following 10 victories in a row, but in the end their perfect league counted for nothing in a tournament decided by a winner takes all match!
Even though India were in red-hot form and were expected to win easy in the final, but they realised it takes more than form to win.
Australia came into the match better prepared and executed their plans to perfection while the Indians hit the panic button once the toss went against them on a pitch which looked quite dry from the outset.
Since the ICC Champions Trophy triumph in 2013, India have failed to win a major title despite doing well in the league stages time and again!
India are one of the most consistent teams across formats in the last 10 to 12 years, but every time they have come up short at the final hurdle.
History repeated itself again in Ahmedabad on Sunday as India were completely outfoxed by a clinical hardworking Australian team, who displayed better big-game temperament.
It was clearly a case of India panicking, a team desperate to get everything perfect in their quest to break their title drought.
Clearly, Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma didn’t heed to the adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
The rampaging Indians had thrown the pitch out of the equation in the league stages with their dominating performances in every game. But come the semi-final, the pitch once again became the talking point.
There was a huge controversy which later resulted in nothing over reports that the pitch for the semi-final against New Zealand was changed without the International Cricket Council’s consent. But it all mattered for nothing as India overpowered New Zealand by 70 runs in a game in which the Indian batters dominated on a pitch expected to aid the spinners.
Come the final, the pitch again became the centre of attention. Rahul Dravid as he has been doing throughout the World Cup in the couple days leading up to the final went to inspect the pitch and had a detailed chat with the curator on how the pitch was expected to behave.
It was not a normal pitch you would expect for a big final. Normally, you would want a pitch loaded full of runs for a title clash — batters entertaining the packed crowd with fours and sixes, but it was exactly the opposite.
It would be unfair to say that the pitch was made to suit the home team, but the Indians certainly had the advantage of playing on a pitch more familiar to them than the Aussies.
The pitch had been left to dry in the past few days which created a lot of rough areas and it was clear that the team winning the toss would have a big advantage, with spinners likely to come into the equation in the second half while dew was also a factor.
But Australia came into the game without bringing the pitch into consideration. There was no dependence on the pitch or fear of how it would play as they proved by electing to bowl, going against the popular view of the experts that it was a bat first pitch with the spinners expected to play a role under the lights.
While Pat Cummins was convinced with his decision to bowl first, Rohit Sharma revealed that he would have batted first expecting spin to play a part.
India stuck to their game-plan with the bat. Rohit continued his ploy of attacking the bowlers in the Powerplay, but his dismissal turned the game on its head.
K L Rahul and Virat Kohli seemed too caught up with the pitch and made it look a lot more difficult than it actually was. They looked intent on rebuilding India’s innings by relying on singles instead of taking the odd calculated risk and finding the boundaries at regular intervals.
Their game plan was to soak the pressure in the middle overs and make up for it in the end. But alas, things didn’t work out to plan.
Seeing that the Indians were keen to play safe, Cummins rotated his bowlers around with eight bowling changes in 11 overs from the 16th over to 26th over as part-timers Glenn Maxwell, Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh squeezed in a few overs in between.
Rahul and Kohli had no Plan B as they kept depending on singles with boundaries difficult to come by and the rebuilding task continued for much longer than expected.
The two batters during their lacklustre 67-run stand for the fourth wicket from 109 balls, hit just one boundary, allowing Australia to grab the momentum in the middle overs.
And when Kohli fell for 54, Rahul continued to struggle to turn the strike over. He got to his fifty from 86 balls — the slowest of World Cup 2023.
India panicked again when they sent Ravindra Jadeja at No. 6 ahead of Suryakumar Yadav, who is a proven middle order batter in white ball cricket even if his ODI figures are not up to the mark.
When Jadeja fell cheaply, Rahul again resorted to rebuilding the innings with Suryakumar. There was not a single phase during the middle overs when India showed the urgency to attack the bowlers and aim for a few boundaries.
Rahul was caught behind off Mitchell Starc after a slow 66 from 107 balls in the 42nd over. The finishing touch from Suryakumar, for which he was specifically picked, didn’t come as he was completely outdone by Australia’s smart tactics of bowling slow bouncers before he eventually gloved one to be caught behind after scoring 18 from 28 balls.
240 was never going to be enough against Australia, who had come into the game with eight straight wins but on the back of a nervy three-wicket victory on a spin-friendly pitch against South Africa.
Once again India panicked as they abandoned the tried-and-tested formula which had worked so well for them throughout the World Cup.
Mohammed Shami was entrusted the new ball ahead of Mohammed Siraj, who even if hadn’t got as many wickets as the former with quite formidable with the new ball.
Shami as the first change bowler had made the telling difference with the ball, but he had to adjust to a new role in the final. He did strike in his first over with David Warner’s wicket but Rohit suddenly found it hard to incorporate Siraj as the first change bowler.
With dew expected to fall later, spin twins Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav were introduced early at the end of Powerplay but they could not make an impact with a relatively new hard ball in the six overs they bowled together.
Siraj came into the attack in the 17th over, but he also could not make much of a difference as they could not stop Head from surging forward in the middle overs.
While Kohli and Rahul both batted cautiously in the middle overs, Australia’s tactics were completely different as Head took the aggressive route, with Marnus Labuschagne playing the second fiddle at the other end.
Australia found themselves in a worse scenario than India after they were reduced to 47/3 in the seventh over. But unlike India, Australia didn’t go into a shell.
They were 60/3 in 10 overs, 104/3 in 20 overs, 167/3 in 30 overs… the phase between the 20th and 30th over which brought 63 runs proving to be decisive.
While India managed just two boundaries between the 11th and 40th over, Australia through Head and Labuschagne took charge with 15 fours and four sixes between the ninth and 40th overs.
With the pitch easing for the batters under lights, India’s bowling attack, which had blown away every team they had faced so far, for once failed to deliver.
As the Australian players celebrated their sixth World Cup title in front of a virtually empty stadium, the Indian players pondered quietly in the dressing room over what could have been.
If only they had not panicked!
- World Cup 2023
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