Keep your Head up

Ahmedabad, November 19

Mohammed Shami struck on the third ball he bowled: Perfectly pitched, perfectly seaming away — edged and caught at slip. David Warner, having got lucky with the first ball of the innings, had to walk off for seven. Fifth over, the ever-dangerous Jasprit Bumrah, who’d gone for 15 in the first over, got Mitchell Marsh with a bad ball — pitched outside off, going out further, and Marsh played a filthy shot — edged and caught by KL Rahul behind the stumps. Two overs later, Bumrah bowled possibly the best ball of the evening — an off-cutter, much slower than his normal speed at 120 km/h, and Steve Smith failed to read it. He got struck on the back pad and was given out.

The Indians celebrated in manic shrieks, which were echoed by over a lakh of spectators — Australia 47/3, needing another 194 runs in 43 overs, against the most fearsome bowling attack in the world. But Smith had got unlucky — he was struck by that ball from Bumrah outside the line of off-stump and the umpire had erred in sending him away, and the third umpire would have called him back if he had decided to challenge the decision.

That was the last bit of bad luck for Australia, and the last bit of good luck for India. The Australians don’t bother about providence, actually — they make their own luck, through their cussed, bloody-minded passion for sport. Travis Head, then on 10 off 15 balls, and new man Marnus Labuschagne did the hard grind over the next phase of play.

In seven overs, Australia had lost three wickets but had raced to 47 at nearly seven an over. Now they’d got a scare — three top batters were gone, the crowd was raising an awful din and the bowlers were fired up. They needed to put their head down and fight the old Aussie way, ball after one bloody ball. Head and Labuschagne played out two maidens from Bumrah and Shami, blocking with a straight bat balls headed for the stumps, curbing their native instinct to attack.

The tide turned in the 10th over, bowled by Shami — Head sent the third ball to the third man boundary by adroitly angling the bat; Shami then erred, bowling too full, and Head struck it straight and hard for four.

The Indians wanted to take the pace off the ball, for the wicket was slow — Rohit Sharma brought in his two left-arm spinners, beginning with the orthodox Ravindra Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav was tidy, too, and the Aussies circumspect, and 18 runs came off their first five overs. Then, out of the blue, Head slog-swept Yadav for six over midwicket. Becoming more assured, Head greeted Mohammed Siraj with a four on the off side, and later hit him for another with a powerful pull.

After 23 overs, Australia were 122/3, needing 119 at 4.40 overs; things were desperate for India, and the crowd had gone quiet. Rohit needed a wicket or two, and brought in Shami — and Head blasted him straight for a four. Five runs off the over, and another nine off Shami’s next, with two fours — and Australia were racing. Dew made its appearance, favouring the Australians — the ball began to race to the boundary and the wicket seemed to become easier to negotiate.

Desperate time, best bowler — Bumrah came in steaming, and Head hit back hard, with an impressive array of strokes: a flick to midwicket, a drive down the ground, a pull to square leg. Three fours, 14 runs off the over, and Australia now needed only 79 off 22.

It was a routine game after that. The Australians had managed to make the most intense match of the tournament, at the biggest stadium in the world, a matter of routine — a testament to the team’s strength of the mind. Head became the third Australian to score a century in a World Cup final, and the seventh overall — but only the second one to score one in a successful chase.

India’s innings was a sorry story of plans gone horribly wrong. Rohit, at the top of the innings, attacked right from the outset, and India raced to 30 in four overs; Mitchell Starc got Shubman Gill playing a false stroke, but Virat Kohli started attacking too, and India were 76/1 after 9.3 overs — the captain then fell to Glenn Maxwell as Head took the catch of the final, running back from cover towards long-off, looking over his shoulder, and diving to grab the ball. Shreyas Iyer, one of India’s successes, hit a four but edged Pat Cummins behind the stumps off the third ball he faced.

Kohli and Rahul then put their heads down; the ball was gripping the surface, and the magnificent Australians fielded with manic energy, saving fours, limiting Kohli and Rahul to twos at the most. There was a lull — India had hit 12 boundaries in the first 10 overs, including Rohit’s three sixers, but 16.2 overs went without a single four. In the final 40 overs, India hit only four boundaries!

The biggest blow came in the 29th over, when Kohli chopped a short ball from Cummins into his stumps. The crowd was silenced — as Cummins had desired yesterday. It remained silent for most of the Aussie innings after 47/3.

19Travis Head hit more boundaries than all of India. He also became the third Australian to score a century in a World Cup final

2Boundaries for India in the middle overs between 11 and 40, the joint-fewest boundaries in a men’s ODI since 2014

What an amazing day! Just thrilled to be a part of it. It’s a lot better than seeing the World Cup on the couch at home (on his injury). I was a little bit nervous but Marnus played exceptionally well and soaked all the pressure. — Travis Head



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