Ahmedabad: India’s thundering juggernaut came to a screeching halt in an anti-climactic finish as Australia denied a golden generation of Indian cricketers the silverware it so desperately craved by lifting an unprecedented sixth World Cup trophy, here Sunday.
The Australians once again showed what meticulous planning and ruthless execution is all about, chasing 241 in just 43 overs with Travis Head (137 off 120 balls) once again proving to be India’s nemesis.
Prior to the showdown, Australia skipper Pat Cummins had said that there is “nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent” and he kept his word.
There was pin-drop silence as Australia marched towards victory.
Many broken pieces of shattered hearts lay all around the gigantic Narendra Modi stadium, which was expected to become the new ‘Theatre of Dreams’ for a buoyant Indian cricket team.
Skipper Rohit Sharma, a once-in-a-generation talent, Ravindra Jadeja, an all-rounder par excellence and an artist called Mohammed Shami possibly lost their last but arguably best shot at winning a 50-over World Cup.
Rahul Dravid, who has invested two years in building a crack ODI unit might have to remain content without that elusive silverware in his cabinet.
Motera was drowned in ‘Ocean of Blue’ in anticipation of the World Cup trophy but the 10 emphatic wins on the trot ended in nothingness as India saved their worst for the last scoring a below-par 240 in 50 overs.
To their dismay, the Australian team under its inspirational skipper Pat Cummins, weathered the early jitters before Head, buoyed by a superlative fielding effort in the afternoon, anchored his team with a chiseled knock that had 15 fours and four sixes.
It was a fantastic knock on a slow track, a perfect display of how to play spinners and pacers alike.
Head had missed the first part of the World Cup due to a broken hand but came back at the right time to once again torment the Indians with a hundred after scoring one in that World Test Championship final.
With every six that Head hit, a few hundred of fans left the stadium, the shoulders dropped and suddenly orange was more visible in the stands than blue.
Head needed one ally for this middling total and found a perfect one in Marnus Labuschagne (58 not out off 110 balls), who played the second fiddle to perfection.
It was a battle Australia won tactically and also with brilliant field placement which complemented a fine bowling performance.
Josh Hazlewood (2/60) and Mitchell Starc (3/55) after a few initial wayward overs found their length but it was one delivery from Pat Cummins and his set-up that became the turning point.
Cummins’ ball bounced a shade extra and Virat Kohli (54), trying a defensive jab towards the empty cover area, played on.
He had opened the cover region and bowled a Test match length, packing the leg-side field and on a fairly benign track, it took one ball to bounce a tad extra and break a billion hearts.
Cummins didn’t do much through the entire tournament but did just enough when he needed to, just like the captains do.
There was a deafening silence inside the stadium brimming with 92,453 fans and ‘King Kohli’ found it hard to take the long walk back to the pavilion.
On a track where stroke-making became extremely difficult with each passing over, KL Rahul’s composed 66 off 107 was an innings that was useful but played in one gear with a solitary boundary that did more harm than good in the final context of the match.
HEADS’ STUNNING CATCH: On a track where Rahul played a lot of dot balls, Head showed how to use feet against Indian spinners, something that Rohit tried but Head’s ‘Kapil Devesque’s catch running backward from his cover position brought a premature end to Indian skipper’s innings.
The degree of difficulty that the Indians faced in getting big hits could be seen as they managed only 13 fours in the entire innings, apart from the three sixes hit by skipper Rohit.
The three Australian spinners — Adam Zampa, Glenn Maxwell, and Travis Head — gave away only 83 runs in their 18 overs with two wickets.
Between overs 11 to 40, India hit only two boundaries.
PERFECT FIELDING EFFORT: The Australian fielding was exceptional as the field placement by Cummins was immaculate and how the fielders inside the ring cut the angles and outfielders saved boundaries was there to be seen.
Kohli started with three stunning boundaries — an on-drive, a slash behind point, and a cover drive to set the pace followed by a punch off Maxwell through extra cover.
With Cummins sending Shreyas Iyer back with a pitched-up delivery that straightened and the batter played inside the line, it was time for consolidation from the Kohli-Rahul duo, who added 67 in 18.1 overs.
It was a phase where Cummins’ cerebral captaincy helped the Aussies maintain a stranglehold on the duo.
India couldn’t hit a boundary for 97 balls and the wagon wheel showed that most of Kohli’s 34 singles came in the arc between square leg and long-on. Rahul, at the other end, had just one boundary.
Cummins placed a fielder on the leg-side boundary and asked his spinners to bowl straight lines, allowing Kohli little room to maneuver on the off-side.
It was day when the King was meant to be checkmated.