Hoping against all hopes, you keep on believing something miraculous would eventually happen, but with reality staring back at you, you realise that behind that hope lies only a delectable wish. 2013 Champions Trophy win stands as the marker for the modern-day Indian cricket team – their last taste of ICC tournament triumph. A series of heartbreaks have followed since that win and the latest – at Ahmedabad on 19th November – probably will sting the most.
Leading up to the final, India had sailed through the league stages. 10-0 was not just an impressive stat, but a testament to how good India had been – they had the invincible aura. Virat Kohli rewrote history books, Mohammad Shami redefined clutch bowling. Four Indian were in the top ten run-getters list, 3 in the top ten wicket-takers list. It was a collective brilliance that drew comparisons to the legendary 2003 and 2007 Australian outfits—arguably the best ODI teams ever assembled in an ICC tournament.
And with good reason – the demolition job they had been on in this tournament was stellar. Sample this: 6 wickets, 8 wickets, 7 wickets and 4 wickets wins while chasing and 100 runs, 302 runs, 243 runs, 160 runs while defending. In the semi-final, they blasted 397/4 – the highest in an ICC tournament knockout and went on to win by 70 runs. How could you doubt this team?
Australia were 5-time champions heading into the final in Ahmedabad. The men’s and women’s teams have claimed 19 World Titles in cricket combined. Australia know how to win. It is in their DNA. But, let’s keep aside the past momentarily forgetting the fact that they know how to win. The point here is how did they win?
Australia qualified as the third-best team from the league stages and there was not much to write home about for them in the campaign up till the semi-final apart from the fact they found ways to win and accumulate those crucial two points after the two initial losses. David Warner was fighting on, Steve Smith was in iffy form throughout the tournament, Marnus Labuschagne was fighting for a place in the XI almost every game. Pat Cummins’ effectiveness as a bowler was questioned, Adam Zampa probably was one out-and-out positive for this team.
When the Invincible Fell to the Inevitable Fate
But come the semi-final and final – Australia had their game face on and one could sense the inevitability of it all. And part of it was because of the history they have in ICC Tournament finals and the experience of a majority of players playing in a tournament final. That pressure is different and Australia soaked it differently. India, for all their tremendous stuff so far in the campaign, and all the pressure every player of that squad has on their shoulders –performing in a final is just a different ball game. India players could not handle that pressure, while the Australians dealt with it with ease.
Win the toss opt to bat first is always the go-to mantra in a big final unless the conditions dictate otherwise. Cummins first up took a bold decision of winning the toss and opting to field. The conditions were not overcast yet, Cummins opted to bowl. First, it was to negate handing Indian spinners a dry wicket under the baking sun. Second, he banked on due to play and role and batting may get better in the second dig. All the talks about slow pitch prepared for this clash were kept aside and Cummins and Australia management read the pitch well.
Rohit Sharma has been ultra-aggressive throughout the tournament and he continued in the same wane even though he lost Shubman Gill early. Yet, in that fast Indian start, Australia were tremendous on the field, similar to how they were against South Africa. SA succumbed to 24/4, but India did not. Rohit took on the bowlers until he miscued one off part-timer Glenn Maxwell. You can argue that he threw his wicket away, but he was clear in his intent. But that’s not the key here. The key here is Travis Head running diagonally from one end of the Advertisement layout to the other and grabbing probably the catch of the tournament. Clutch Play and clutch moment of the game. Australia were on the money.
And it is that clutch play, seizing those moments and building on that seems inevitable for an Australian Side. Once they smell blood, they instinctively hone in on the scent. They stifled the World’s best batter – Virat Kohli and KL Rahul – without a boundary for 97 deliveries.
Cummins, who had largely flown under the radar with the ball in the tournament, stepped up with wickets for India’s most in-form players – Shreyas Iyer and Kohli. At 148/4, India were in unknown territory for the first time in the tournament and they had little clue what to do. Australia had been in such a situation earlier in the tournament and they knew what to do, without giving an inch of breathing space they had India submitted to the mat slowly tightening the hold.
India, accustomed to first-round knockout wins, did not have the belly to take the fight deep – in a battle of attritions, Australia won hands down. 240 done and dusted. Yet, India had an ace up their sleeves their in-form bowlers and once again they landed the opening punches well—Australia 40/3. But what after that? When Travis Head counter-attacked the Indian ball suddenly stopped spinning, and the impeccable line and length of India’s trio of pacers went for a walk.
This is what pressure does, this is what inevitability probably looks like. When Travis Head got through the tough phase unscathed, he did not remain in his shell and went after runs. Marnus Labuschagne was his able ally. As the shoulders of the Indians players drooped, a dejected silence fell over the 90,000-plus crowd, all taking the slow, grudging march for the exit gates with the eerie echoes of 2003, 2014, 2017, 2021 and 2023.
When the invincible fell to the inevitable fate.