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Big picture: The team of this tournament vs the team that tends to win these tournaments
It feels a little like we are in the eye of the cyclone. Over the last few weeks, this World Cup had become a furious whirl of irresistible narratives. There was Virat Kohli’s tenacious run to 50 ODI hundreds, Glenn Maxwell’s fastest World Cup hundred, then that manic 201* against Afghanistan, a timed-out dismissal sparking major controversy, New Zealand pushing the big teams close but not quite making it, Pakistan’s exit setting off major reshuffles at home, Sri Lanka nosediving into a deep administrative and cricketing ravine, Bangladesh engaging in some soul-searching of their own, and Afghanistan orchestrating the most captivating campaign of the tournament but disovering there is a ceiling for them still.
In the cyclone’s eye, because this tournament deserves a dramatic finish, and the stage seems set for one. The final really does feel like the culmination of all the events since October 5. For a start, there can be no doubt these are the best teams of the competition. India have dominated the tournament so far to such an extent that their average winning margin batting first is 175 runs, and on average they have won with 64.4 balls to spare while chasing. Only Australia’s stomping march to the 2007 World Cup final rivals these numbers.
Australia had found themselves bottom of the table after two matches, thanks partly to India having eased to victory in these teams’ tournament opener. But they have since put together a sequence of eight victories. Where India have tended to crush their oppositions from the outset, Australia have had major scares to survive (like being 91 for 7 chasing 292 against Afghanistan), white-hot spells to see out (like Tabraiz Shamsi in the semi-final), determined opposition chases to weather (like New Zealand’s in Dharamsala).
Rather than being wearied by these intense passages of play, Australia have perhaps been tempered by them. As they had lost series to South Africa and India in the lead-in to this tournament, they had not been favourites on current form, anyway. On top of which theirs has been an imperfect campaign: Mitchell Starc only really came good in the semi-final, Steven Smith has not hit top gear, powerplay wickets have sometimes been in short supply.
India have been as close to perfect as you could imagine. Twice they’ve bowled out oppositions for below 80. Of the five times they’ve batted first, they surpassed 350 on three occasions, and got 326 for 5 on another. Their fielding has been exemplary. Four of their top five have hit hundreds over the course of the campaign, and the other – Shubman Gill – still averages 50 and has struck at 108.02.
They have also fed off, rather than been overwhelmed by, their roaring home crowds, Virat Kohli directing entire stadiums like an orchestra conductor. In fact, watching India in their grand stadiums in this World Cup has at times felt like a grand, synchronous performance – every instrument in tune, every voice in perfect pitch, all the broader forces acting on the match advancing the march toward’s India’s glory.
And perhaps being battle-tested counts for something too. If the game gets close, Australia have had more recent experience in such situations, and have a long-term history in keeping themselves sharp and collected. For all the data that has now swept cricket, this is still a game played by human beings ruled at times by emotion.
Still, will India even let Australia get close? So far in this World Cup, India have been like the sun, and Australia like Jupiter – the next-most massive body in the solar system, but dwarfed still by the greater celestial body.
India WWWWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Mohammed Shami has played six matches in this tournament, having only come into the team post Hardik Pandya’s exit. He’s since taken a tournament-high 23 wickets at 9.13, with an economy rate of 5.01. Three times he’s taken five wickets, and once he’s taken four. There are excellent reasons to put Jasprit Bumrah’s name down on the team sheet first, but in terms of wicket-seekers, there has been no bowler better than Shami, constantly coming at the stumps, often muddling batters’ brains to such an extent that they are forced to play wild shots. Shami is also part of the reason why India – who very arguably have the best pace attack of the competition (that they have the best overall attack is more widely accepted) – can prosper on any kind of deck, even the low, slow ones. The Ahmedabad pitch for this game is a used deck. You have to expect Shami wickets.
Cummins has had a decent tournament, but perhaps not for the reasons you’d expect. He’s averaged 37 with the ball, with an economy rate of 6.05. His more memorable contributions have been with the bat. He batted out 68 balls against Afghanistan so Maxwell could play that innings, and on Thursday, his 14 not out against South Africa was an important contribution in a string of important contributions that saw Australia through to the final. When he has taken wickets, though, they have tended to be important ones – the dismissal of centurion David Miller in that semi-final a case in point.
If there is a criticism to be made here, perhaps it’s that he’s occasionally been too rigid with his captaincy. Why not bowl out Josh Hazlewood when he’s had such spectacular first and second spells, against South Africa, for example? Why give Mitchell Starc the vital last over against New Zealand, when Starc had had struggled in that game? And yet also, he has also embodied the resilience his team has shown since going 2-0 down early.
Pitch and conditions
This is the same track that was used for the India-Pakistan match in the second week of the World Cup, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be a low-scoring match. Cummins has said he doesn’t have any issues with it and there is an extended story on the surface here.
There may be some dew to contend with, however. With there being an early winter nip in the air in the evenings, the dropping of temperature after sunset may make for a soggy ball, though there is also a chemical sprayed on the grass to mitigate the dew’s effects.
There is no rain forecast. The temperature will be in the low 30 degrees celsius range in the hottest parts of the day.
There has been no indication from either team that their semi-final XIs will need any tinkering with. India, certainly, seem to have their set XI.
India (likely): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Suryakumar Yadav, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Mohammed Shami, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Mohammed Siraj.
Australia may think about bringing Marcus Stoinis into the team ahead of Marnus Labuschagne, but against an attack of India’s quality, Labuschagne may be the choice again, as it was in the semi-final.
Australia (likely): 1 David Warner, 2 Travis Head, 3 Mitchell Marsh, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Marnus Labuschagne, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Josh Inglis (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood.
Stats and trivia
- Six of the likely players across the two teams have played in a World Cup final before (Kohli, Warner, Smith, Maxwell, Starc, Hazlewood). They all won their first final.
- Jasprit Bumrah is ranked only joint fifth in terms of wicket-takers this World Cup, with 18 dismissals. But his economy rate is 3.98. To find a better economy rate on the wicket takers’ list, you have to scroll all the way down to 78th, to R Ashwin, who took a single wicket and went at 3.4 runs an over in the one match he played.
- Mitchell Starc is third on the all-time World Cup wicket-takers’ list, with 62 to his name. But he will need six wickets to match Muttiah Muralitharan, the second-highest wicket taker behind Glenn McGrath.
- Mohammed Shami, meanwhile, is already India’s most-successful World Cup wicket taker, and will surpass two bona-fide ODI greats on the list if he takes three wickets. Shami is currently on 54 World Cup dismissals, Wasim Akram (fifth on the overall list) had 55, and Lasith Malinga finished on 56.
“The crowd’s obviously going to be very one-sided but it’s also in sport there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent and that’s the aim for us tomorrow.”
Australia captain Pat Cummins on playing in a packed Ahmedabad stadium
Andrew Fidel Fernando is a writer at ESPNcricinfo. @afidelf
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