The World Cup caravan finally returns to Ahmedabad, where it commenced its journey on October 5. This Sunday, a packed Narendra Modi Stadium will witness the summit clash between India and Australia. The host is in prime form, having notched 10 wins on the trot, including a fine victory over doughty New Zealand in the semifinal at Mumbai. Meanwhile, Australia started on the wrong foot with two losses before winning eight consecutive games. With Australia having won cricket’s premier championship on five occasions, Pat Cummins and his men must live up to a hallowed legacy. Their semifinal against South Africa had the thrills associated with low-scoring humdingers at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens. The last time India and Australia clashed in a World Cup final, it was in the 2003 edition at Johannesburg in South Africa, and Ricky Ponting’s men won by 125 runs. Two decades later, Rahul Dravid, a key player involved in that iconic match, is now the Indian team’s coach. The former India captain will surely infuse pragmatism without toning down the adrenaline surge within the dressing room. Back then, Zaheer Khan got locked in a war of words with Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, lost his focus, and soon the contest nestled inside the rival’s pocket.
This time around, Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma swear by the philosophy of taking it one match at a time. World Cup finals are massive sporting engagements, where the best either find extra reserves of strength or watch their legs turn into jelly. If India sticks to its consistent methods, executed well so far in this championship, it should start as the favourite. Rohit Sharma’s ballistic starts, Shubman Gill’s poise, Virat Kohli’s prolific run, and the combined yield of Shreyas Iyer, K.L. Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav, have ensured that rivals have no relief on the field. A bowling attack helmed by Jasprit Bumrah has prised open the opposition’s top order before the spinners stepped in and strangled the middle order in the middle game. Kohli, with 711 runs, is the leading batter in this World Cup, and Mohammed Shami leads the bowlers’ pack with 23 scalps. Still, Australia will remain a combative unit, scrapping hard, never ceding an inch. Even though all its batting stars have not performed as smoothly as the Indians, Glenn Maxwell’s stunning unbeaten 201 against Afghanistan indicated at the magic and mayhem within the Australian changeroom. A fine seam attack and an effective spinner in Adam Zampa, will pose a challenge, which India has to tackle well, if it is to hold up the Cup for the third time.