Australia 241 for 4 (Head 137, Labuschagne 58*, Bumrah 2-43) beat India 240 (Rahul 66, Kohli 54, Starc 3-55, Cummins 2-34, Hazlewood 2-60) by six wickets
And so Australia’s victory came at a canter in the end, with six wickets standing and a huge 42 balls unused – a margin that would have been greater still but for Head’s dismissal to the penultimate ball of the chase. Undeterred, Glenn Maxwell pulled his first ball for two to take his side through to a victory target which – as fate would have it – was the exact total that England and New Zealand had been unable to split by conventional means four years ago.
But that ease at the finish told nothing of the jeopardy that had preceded it. At 47 for 3 after seven overs, with Steven Smith inexplicably failing to review an lbw from Bumrah that was shown to have struck his pad outside off, Australia were in the thick of a do-or-die tussle against two of the most outstanding performers of India’s previously peerless campaign.
When Bumrah returned for the 28th over for a last roll of the dice with Australia beginning to accelerate away on 148 for 3, he was greeted with three flayed fours from Head, either side of an excruciating umpire’s call appeal for lbw against Labuschagne that felt like final proof that India’s hope had gone.
Ultimately, it was a clinical and ruthlessly passion-killing display from the most formidable winners in the world game. Every man in Australia’s XI played his part in sucking the marrow from a contest that, to judge by the sea of blue in the Narendra Modi Stadium’s stands and the expectant attendance of the eponymous PM himself, had been intended as a coronation. Instead, the closing hour of the match was greeted in stunned silence by a 92,453-strong crowd, and nothing epitomised the sense of national anticlimax quite like the trophy-lift itself, for which Cummins was left forlorn on the podium for a full 20 seconds before his team was able to join him after accepting their handshakes away from centre stage.
Not that the lack of in-situ acclaim will derail Australia’s sense of achievement. As Head’s pivotal catch would ultimately prove, the tone for their victory was once again set in the field. As had been the case in the semi-final against New Zealand, the 37-year-old Warner was their barometer, flinging himself with gusto to cut off numerous boundary balls, but while Rohit was on deck, it seemed that Cummins’ brave decision to bowl first might get soon overwhelmed, like so many opponents before them, by India’s extraordinary weight of strokemakers.
Instead, he backed his bowlers to complete the job they had started in their extraordinary tournament opener in Chennai, where India’s top three had all made ducks in slumping to 2 for 3, only for their sub-par target of 200 to be picked off with ease. This time, the dew notwithstanding, he figured the pressure of the big occasion might weigh more heavily in the first innings than the second – especially if his attack could make their early breakthroughs.
But then came the unequivocal moment of the match – a act of fielding majesty that stood immediate comparison with Kapil Dev’s running catch off Viv Richards at the pivotal juncture of the 1983 final. Rohit had already slammed ten runs in two balls from Glenn Maxwell’s second over, when he stepped into another slap over the long-off boundary, and miscued high out into the covers. Travis Head tracked back from point with the ball skewing high over his shoulder, and with his eyes never leaving the prize, timed his dive to perfection to cling on with both hands.
At least in Kohli, India had a man whose tempo in such circumstances could be trusted. On his team’s better days, and in spite of his formidable tournament haul of 765 runs at 95.62, his ruthless devotion to run-making had been mistaken for a weakness. Now his 56-ball fifty was the bedrock of his team’s recovery, albeit the reaction to his latest landmark was a pent-up roar that merely exacerbated the anxious hubbub that had preceded it.
But Australia’s magnificent attack could not be denied, especially after Cummins had seized on his opponents’ visible reticence to smuggle through a churn of change bowlers. Between them, Maxwell, Head and Marsh burgled ten overs for 44, a perfect holding pattern that bought back options for the back end of the innings.
That included the return of the captain himself for the 29th over. With the third ball of his second spell, Cummins hit an awkward length with his short ball, and Kohli looked genuinely emotional as he under-edged onto his stumps with an angled bat, glared at the length from which it had lifted, and glanced over his shoulder before trudging off, as if assessing the pull shot he had chosen to keep in his locker.
But on 66, he and the lower order came face to face with another threat that India’s own seamers would be forced to do without. In preparing a visibly dry and abrasive deck for this final, the curators had opened the possibility of reverse-swing, and few teams have more eager exponents than Australia. Starc, from round the wicket, straightened an unplayable delivery into Rahul’s edge and through to the keeper.
Though Ravindra Jadeja is renowned as a scrapper in such circumstances, his promotion to No.6 couldn’t contend with Hazlewood’s similarly late movement. After surviving one review for caught-behind he succumbed to the very next ball for 6, at which point, India’s easy progress to the final fully caught up with them. With no situational experience to fall back on – and no pace in the wicket with which to access his inverted V from fine leg to deep third – Suryakumar Yadav ground out 18 from 27 before lobbing Hazlewood to the keeper, by which stage he’d faced just five balls out of a possible 17 in his ninth-wicket stand with Kuldeep Yadav.
Kuldeep and Mohammed Siraj kept the innings alive to the final ball, but the mood within the stadium was never able to emerge from its funk. Australia had come with a plan, and the sure knowledge of what it truly takes to win the biggest title in the sport. Ahmedabad turned blue alright, but only with a wistful sense of what might have been.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
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