Ahmedabad, November 18
At the Narendra Modi Stadium, nothing less than victory would suffice on Sunday night.
The two best teams of the tournament would clash for the big trophy tomorrow — India for their third World Cup title, Australia for their sixth. Since their first title in 1987, Australia have lost only one final, in 1996; they’ve won each final they played since then, three in a row in 1999-2007.
Emotionally it’s a big thing, a big occasion. Without a doubt, because whatever hard work and dreams you have, you have for this. And tomorrow, that day will be in front of us. Rohit Sharma
The stage seems set for India and their talismanic star, Virat Kohli, who has hogged the limelight since the very first match. If any player can thrive under pressure, it’s Kohli. He has over 30 crore followers on social media, and crowds gather behind him and chant his name in practice; when he fields, takes a catch, he thumps his chest and shrieks and turns around and eggs on the fans — as if they need any encouragement.
But it’s Rohit Sharma’s team. It’s the team that he’s created, and he chuckles when he says that he’s got the support of Rahul Dravid, the team coach. As captain, he said he wanted to play very aggressive cricket, but not worry too much about the consequences — that’s not how Dravid played his cricket. “Looking at how Rahul himself has played his cricket and how I’m playing these days, obviously it’s quite contrasting,” said Rohit on the evening before the big game, with a big grin on his face. “For him to agree and give me that freedom and liberty to go and play the way we want to play, that says a lot about him.”
The crowd’s obviously going to be very one-sided but in sport, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent and that’s the aim for us tomorrow.
Rohit has attacked the opposition bowlers right from the outset, making the Powerplay count; he’s made 550 runs at an average of 55, but a more impressive scoring rate of 124.15 per 100 balls. He’s always had a penchant for hitting sixers, and struck 28 of them in 10 innings. He’s played 443 balls, 341 fewer than Kohli, but has hit 62 fours to Kohli’s 64.
This leads commentators to focus on Rohit’s “unselfish” attitude, but Rohit has his eye on the bigger picture. He says he has less pressure on him because he attacks the bowlers in the Powerplay, when there are only two fielders outside the circle. He wants to maximise the scoring then — it’s not unselfishness but the situation and the team’s requirements. “I start the innings, there is a bit of freedom there for me to go and express myself,” Rohit said. “But you must have seen in that game against England, I had to change my game a little bit once we lost a few wickets.”
Kohli, of course, mostly bats with several fielders on the boundary; he also doesn’t prefer to hit the ball in the air, keeping risks to a minimum. But he’s had to run a lot, and for that his state of prime fitness, even at age 35, is critical; he’s run 391 ones or twos off the 784 balls he’s faced, which is a testament to his fitness.
The pitches have been mostly excellent for batting, and Rohit has capitalised. “You sometimes get that feeling that it’s a good pitch, you can take on the bowlers,” he said.
What’s remarkable about this Indian team is that all players are in good form — playing on familiar tracks, they’ve been frighteningly good. Shreyas Iyer, for instance, has scored 526 runs at 75.14, with two consecutive centuries. He has given Kohli the freedom to play at a conservative pace. Then there’s KL Rahul, who has scored 386 runs at a scoring rate of 98.72. Shubman Gill, the only one among the top-five to not strike a century, averages an exact 50, scoring at 108.02 per 100 balls.
This batting might would be tested by Australia’s pacemen on Sunday. Fast bowler Josh Hazlewood believes that he saw a “few cracks” when Australia played India in the tournament’s first match in Chennai last month. Australia had removed Ishan Kishan, Rohit and Iyer with only two runs on the board; Kohli and Rahul then guided India home. “I guess we saw a few cracks when we played them in Chennai chasing a small target,” Hazlewood said.
Australia’s batting line-up is formidable, though Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne are yet to hit full stride. Warner has two 100s and two 50s, and Glenn Maxwell has two 100s in 398, including the 201* against Afghanistan. How Warner manages Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami could set the tone for the innings.
The pitch, the same as the one used in India’s game against Pakistan, is expected to be slowish, yield runs yet aid the spinners.
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