World Cup 2023 Final: India, Australia ready for the game of their lives
In an air-conditioned room packed with press personnel in Chennai on October 7, Rohit Sharma was asked about “unfinished business”. Restless in these arrangements, the Indian skipper would respond by invoking Sachin Tendulkar to win the 2011 ODI World Cup and say that he is pursuing a similar goal. “Yes, it will be nice to win the World Cup. It’s the biggest prize you can have in your career,” he said. “But there is a way to do it. There is a procedure you must follow. It’s a process.”
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That process was followed to perfection, with ten big wins and many memorable performances shaping a flawless campaign so far.
In another air-conditioned room on Saturday, this time in Ahmedabad with a larger audience hanging on his words, Sharma was reminded of “unfinished business”.
And he repeated what he said six weeks ago. “Yes, it will be nice to win the World Cup. Likewise, I want to say it again, the same thing.”
Thus, India’s opponents are Australia, the five-time champions in this format. But if Sharma’s statement in Chennai came at the start of the World Cup, the difference now is that his reiteration will come ahead of the final in Ahmedabad on Sunday. India are now just one step away, and hope to reach the holy grail, along with the Indian teams of 1983 and 2011.
Full coverage of the 2023 World Cup final
“It will be nice to do it because we have worked hard for it,” said Sharma. “But again, we don’t want to get too excited about it, or you don’t want to put too much pressure on it. There will be a nice fair atmosphere at this very nice stage. And it’s just not from me. I can understand from all the other players in the dressing room that you know there is laughter going around, there are also slightly tense faces. I’m not going to hide that but that’s normal. That’s why this sport is so exciting because you see all kinds of different emotions. But of course, when it’s game time, the men know very well what needs to be done now.”
It has taken India around two years to achieve this position, and meticulous planning, role clarity and support for all the right players have gone into this run. “Since I became captain two years ago, we have prepared for this day. So, in the case of the three formats, we had to prepare players, identify, which players could be the right ones for the format. We did this process; it was a two and a half year process. I think, so far, clarity has played an important role in getting this far,” he said.
But in their path is an Australian outfit with the ammunition to destroy India’s big party. As Australian skipper Pat Cummins reminded everyone on Saturday, India might have been 20/4 after 200 in the opening game if Mitchell Marsh had held Virat Kohli’s catch. Also aware that a crowd of 1,32,000 will strain their vocal chords and want the Australians to fail, Cummins wants his players to embrace the atmosphere.
“Obviously the crowd will be very one-sided, but also in sport there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent and that’s our aim tomorrow,” said the Australian pacer. “You have to be up for it, and know what happens it’s okay but you just want to finish the day with no regrets.”
The large crowd of Indian fans should work in favor of the hosts, but it can also increase the pressure of a high-stakes match that comes once in four years. Among the current Indian players, only Virat Kohli knows what it’s like to play an ODI World Cup final. On the other hand, Australia have five players who were part of the 2015 final.
“No, look, in my opinion, that can’t be an advantage. They have experience of playing the final game. But I think when you play such a tournament, when we are talking about eight years later, I think the current form of the players, their current state of mind, is more important than that,” said Sharma .
If India make it to the final, their dominance will be similar to the run achieved by Australia in 2003 and 2007 when they won without losing a match. But Sharma did not want to be drawn into those comparisons. “I don’t believe, see, I don’t believe in that aura and all. I don’t believe in what we did in the last 10 games. Of course, it is important to trust such games. We played 10 good games. But again, if you make mistakes tomorrow, then no matter how good a job you did in those 10 games, it might be wasted. This is the only mantra we are following.”
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When teams reach this stage, tinkering with the mix is rare. In India’s case, they have set up a unit to get the job done in recent matches. But Sharma was still asked about the prospect of veteran R Ashwin, who played against Australia in the opening match, coming in for the second match of his campaign. “We haven’t made a decision yet. I want all the boys to be available and then we will decide who they will play,” said Sharma, who hinted at little.
One thing can be said for sure, though — all the players who will be walking the lush green on Sunday will be playing one of the most important one-day games of their lives.
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