Five-time World Cup winners. World Test champions. T20 World Cup holders until last year. Australia’s list of accomplishments is simply scary. Let’s not look back at the Invincibles of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, since the team under Pat Cummins are not a patch on them. Yet, they have made the Cricket World Cup final for a record eighth time. That formidable record is enough to send shivers down the spines of rivals.
Facing them in Ahmedabad are India, who barnstormed their way into the final. Rohit Sharma leads the best white-ball cricket team from India for a long time. A solid set of batters is backed by a variety of wicket-takers. Only fielding seems suspect at times.
India are a team destined to win the Cricket World Cup 2023. They have the prayers of a billion people, and the support of 130,000 at the Narendra Modi Stadium. Australia will have to find a way to silence them.
How can Australia take India down? It isn’t easy. They have struggled, having had to put two early defeats behind them to string together an eight-match win streak. Most wins have been fashioned by strong individual performances.
David Warner has lashed two hundreds and two fifties in his 528 runs to head the Aussie scoring charts, followed by Mitchell Marsh’s 426 runs, which include two tons and a half-ton. Glenn Maxwell, who hammered the fastest World Cup century, has scored 398 with a hundred and a double hundred.
Why Warner, Marsh and Maxwell are the key
The problem with that is the team rides to victories on the back of a single strong showing in a match. And when they fail, the team collapse. It nearly happened in the semifinal. After Warner and Travis Head gave a strong start, the Aussies waded into troubled waters when Marsh and Maxwell were dismissed cheaply, but South Africa didn’t have enough runs on the board to push them. So that was an escape to victory.
It won’t work against a strong Indian side with quality bowlers.
So what’s the best strategy? They may have to follow the tried and tested plan of targeting a bowler. New Zealand did that by singling out Mohammad Siraj, who tends to lose shape and spray the ball. It worked before Mohammed Shami and the spinners reeled them in. For a while, Daryl Mitchell and Kane Williamson had India frazzled.
Australia could use the same approach, and give India a dose of their medicine. Warner and Head could do exactly what Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill do in the powerplay. Go hard and go over the top. It worked well against the Proteas, but Australia lost the plot briefly after Head’s dismissal.
The Adam Zampa riddle
It could work against India, although Jasprit Bumrah and Shami want Australia to do just that. The early attack also means early wickets, and if the middle order can’t take up the gauntlet, it could be disastrous. However, Australia will undoubtedly pursue that line of attack, hoping that Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne will steady them for a late assault.
If that takes care of the batting, how can Australia stop the Indian run machine? Cummins will pray for some help from the pitch so that Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc could inflict heavy damage in the first 10 overs. The only problem is the steel in the Indian middle order. Unless they grab the first five wickets, Australia can’t breathe easy. So the first spell is important.
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Adam Zampa’s 22-wicket haul is the best in the tournament after Shami’s 23, and the leggie played a huge role in Australia’s revival. He was off-colour against South Africa, and the Aussies struggled in the middle-overs when David Miller was in control. India’s Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav are good players of spin, but if Zampa grabs a couple of quick wickets, Australia can stop the Indian juggernaut.
Fielding is Australia’s forte. That saves them a good amount of runs, and their impeccable catching won’t allow half-chances to go abegging. If they can repeat the semifinal fielding performance, Indian batters will be under pressure. That’s when wickets tumble. Soon panic sets in.
Australia can play the long game. The waiting game. The long wait for opponents to make mistakes. We saw that in the knockout match, where they never looked out of the game, even when South Africa were chipping away. That comes from experience. Warner, Maxwell, Cummins, Smith and others would have watched the Waughs and Ponting do it with panache. That’s the value of having played seven finals. It will come in handy in this final too.
If India waver ever so slightly, Australia will be crowned champions for the sixth time.