As Pat Cummins and his players basked in the afterglow of Australia’s sixth men’s World Cup title – undoubtedly a contender for the biggest trophy – thousands of Indian fans streamed out of this vast cricket coliseum in complete disbelief.
Gone was the notion that this day would fulfill India’s destiny at their home tournament, a great team with some greats – Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, no less – seeing an impressive run of 10 straight wins evaporate at the end had to. Cummins, a boy from the Blue Mountains in a sea of blue shirts, had planned a truly famous heist.
Even after India stumbled on a dismal, slow pitch and struggled to reach 240, their enthusiastic, if largely reactive, supporters immediately had reason to hope. In a rocky start to the chase that had all the hallmarks of India’s journey so far, Bumrah and Mohammed Shami seemingly wreaked game-winning havoc.
But from 47 for three from seven completely crazy overs – Steve Smith was the last to fall lbw and failed to claim the review that would have saved him – two batters in Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne showed the kind of resilience and skill that He ran Australian cricket history like words through a stick of canary yellow stone.
Head missed the first five games of the tournament with a broken hand, but Cummins, knowing his value, didn’t shy away. And the bet to keep the pitch open ultimately delivered the ultimate payoff: a masterful 137 from 120 balls – coupled with an unflinching 58 not out – brought the target home, four wickets down with seven overs to spare.
By the time Labuschagne chiseled away at one end and stumped India’s spinners, the bushy-moustachioed South Australian southpaw had taken on the riskier role, crushing 15 fours and four sixes. Among them was a foursome that greeted Shami’s crucial return in the 24th over when Head sent him back from where he was en route to his 95-ball century.
Head missed the target twice, but it was more of a deserved solo moment in the spotlight; a chance for remaining supporters to pay their dues. Kohli ran over in a friendly manner and patted him on the shoulder. Head became the third Australian to score a century in a World Cup final, after Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting.
The coup de grace instead came from Glenn Maxwell, who hit his first ball from Mohammed Siraj Square in the fourth wicket after an impressive 192-run stand. Invite a rush of teammates onto the pitch as the Sharma men initially stand slightly stunned. Handshakes followed, of course, but that scene wasn’t in the script at all.
If Head and Labuschagne were the star of Australians around the world – the spark for a dazzling light show that only made India’s torment worse – then Cummins’ fingerprints were all over this. In a year in which he lifted the World Test Championship mace and retained the Ashes in England, this achievement – getting to what was supposed to be India’s home coronation and snatching the crown – is certainly the icing on the cake.
Cummins had first raised a few eyebrows when he won the throw and made the two-finger seam-up gesture for the throw after an aerobatic display by the Indian Air Force’s 52 Squadron overhead. Those thoughts only intensified when his opposite number, Sharma, put on something of a show himself, hitting three sixes in a 31-ball 47 before a combination of Maxwell and Head’s scintillating tumbling catch ended the game.
Nevertheless, Sharma’s early attacks had previously triggered an avalanche of Indian runs in the tournament and the crowd expected a repeat. But Cummins held his nerve excellently here. He arranged his forces cleverly, not least noticing when one of the balls started to spin and slipping it into the hands of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. The pair were superb, sharing five wickets between them, while Cummins himself took two for 34.
Among them was one of the countless times the stadium was transformed into the world’s largest library when Kohli, who had gone from 63 to 54, heard a backfoot defense piece hit his stumps. India’s icon had seen his record-breaking run of 765 in the tournament cut short and it took what felt like an eternity for him to get out of the middle.
It came 29 overs into what had become a grinding crawl for India, an 80-run powerplay with 12 boundaries that was replaced by a torturous 40-over grind that produced just four more. Australia delivered another outstanding performance, Josh Inglis becoming the first wicketkeeper to take five catches in a World Cup final and Adam Zampa claiming his 23rd victim of the campaign, equaling Muttiah Muralitharan’s record for a spinner.
India’s battle, which virtually began only after Cummins bowled over Shreyas Iyer’s third ball in the 11th over, was summed up by a 107-ball 66 from the usually fluent KL Rahul, hitting just one four. There could have been a late surge, only Starc and Hazlewood’s old ball quality would have always made things up.
A score on the board and Australia’s previous deficiencies against spin in the subcontinent still gave India an even chance, the pendulum even swinging their way as David Warner, Mitch Marsh and Smith were quickly destroyed. Australia, who tried to break the chase’s back early on, were initially on everyone’s lips, highlighted by Smith’s error.
But an Indian team that had contemplated overnight (but ultimately resisted) signing Ravichandran Ashwin for this lunar landscape failed to create another meaningful chance. Instead, Head and Labuschagne quietly built a partnership and a victory that will go down in their country’s folklore, joining the triumphs of 1987, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015.
All India had to do was collect their runners-up medals and watch as their Prime Minister, the man whose name adorns that massive stadium in Ahmedabad, handed over the World Cup to the deserving Cummins. At the end of what seemed like a 46-day procession for the hosts came a reminder that nothing in sport is predetermined.