Clash of the Titans today as history calls, captains ready their teams for the big one.
The world’s biggest cricket stadium is now the setting for Indian cricket’s global domination moment. If this World Cup’s most imperious team takes down five-time World Champions Australia, it will be the perfect finish for the hosts. Indian cricket has administrative and financial muscle but the coveted ICC trophies has eluded them for more than a decade. Ahmedabad could see India ticking the final big box.
The high-stakes moment has drawn a stellar cast in the viewing gallery.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be present along with Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles. Jets from the Indian Air Force’s Surya Kiran aerobatics team will be flipping over the arena just after the toss. Nearly every break in play will be filled with entertainment.
Singers and dancers will perform in the innings break, and a laser show on the roof of the stadium is also listed.
A parade of champions – captains of triumphant World Cup teams from over the years barring Imran Khan – will be felicitated just after the air show. It remains to be seen whether it will be Rohit Sharma or Pat Cummins who will be a part of a similar parade of champions in the next ODI World Cup. History is calling and both captains seem to be all ears.
Considering their form and the brand of cricket they have played, if not for Australia being their opponents, India would have been unquestionable favourites for the final. But even in the most parochial and gung-ho of Indian fans, there would be a lurking fear about the possibility of Australia silencing the over 1 lakh-capacity crowd.
Over the years in World Cups, individuals have stepped up to drag the Aussies out of holes. Against South Africa in the semi-final, the first one hour was all yellow. It was like watching an Australian rewind show.
The pacers went on attack, the fielders were diving, fist-pumping and back-slapping to induce claustrophobia in South Africa.
They have the men to do the job. David Warner, playing in his last World Cup game, captain Cummins who always performs with bat or ball in crunch situations, or Steve Smith who hasn’t done much yet. It could be opener Travis Head, who would undoubtedly try to take down the Indian seamers.
Australia will come hard. They know how to win big moments – and that elusive art can be priceless in this World Cup final.
Cummins said as much on match eve. “Everyone in our squad has won a World Cup in some format, so we know what it takes. We shall take that feeling onto the field. We got big wins this year. From the WTC final to retaining the Ashes. The morale in the team is awesome and we are in a position to finish off an incredible year.”
Leading from the front
The Indian response to that Australian dare would come down to how their talismanic leader Rohit Sharma, who can’t believe he is leading an Indian team in a World Cup final, sets the tone. “I didn’t think it would happen, that I would lead the team into a World Cup final. Things happen if you wish for it and think big.”
The straight-talking skipper also admitted that he saw a few nervous faces in the dressing room. “To be nice and balanced would be best. I sense the same feeling from other players. Also, a bit of tense faces which is normal. That’s why sport is exciting as you see different kinds of emotions.”
Rohit possesses the unique ability to strip any occasion of its gravitas and has an air of nonchalant lightness about him, and says he would like to continue in the same vein. “Nice and balanced” was a phrase he repeatedly used in the media interaction on match eve. “Not too up, not too down, nice and balanced. It will be a nice thing to win the World Cup because we have worked real hard but we don’t want to get excited and put pressure on ourselves.”
India coach Rahul Dravid hasn’t experienced a World Cup triumph, led a disastrous campaign in 2007, but this is a redemption of sorts for him. Calmly, astutely, almost invisibly, he has done the hard work, backing Rohit and keeping the team in great emotional space.
“Massive role,” Rohit said about Dravid. “It’s one thing for me to think about the brand of cricket but if the coach doesn’t agree… The way Rahul bhai played cricket and the way I play is totally contrasting, but he has backed me and the players. I am very happy with the messaging from me and Rahul bhai to the team and how they have responded … We have played 99.99 per cent of the brand of cricket we wanted to play in this World Cup.”
The 1983 World Cup triumph was as delightful as watching a child walk a few steps for the first time, the 2011 victory felt sweet as a nation revelled in relief-tinged joy that its greatest cricketing son Sachin Tendulkar could experience a World Cup triumph; 2023 is the time for India’s complete takeover of cricket – both on the the field and outside.