Nov 24th 2023: All roads on the 19th of November 2023 led to the Narendra Modi cricket stadium in Ahmedabad. The rush to witness a historic Indian cricket win had people paying abnormal prices for tickets, hotels, and transport. One still fails to understand the enormous wealth that is so easily disbursed to get a seat in the stadium. The economics of it all is so baffling.
The stage was all set for an Indian win and plans were put in place, not only for a spectacular and extravagant display off the field, but also for, one gathers, a roadshow arranged after an Indian win.
Cricket, once again played the spoilsport. The two famous sayings that come to ones’ mind are, “No match is over until the last ball is bowled” or “do not count your chickens before they hatch.”
Unfortunately, for all the Indian supporters the presumed certainty that was followed by the reality of the defeat, stuck a lump in their throats. An eerie and dead silence was the outcome. One so significantly brought out by the Australian captain, Pat Cummins, in his final press conference remark on what they plan to do, “Silence the crowd”.
Australia did so in style. They outsmarted and checkmated India via a well-constructed and thought-through strategy.
In cricket, there has been many a slip between the cup and the lip in the past, however, the way the Indian cricket team was performing, the millions of followers were already relishing the taste of victory.
The crowd that gathered at the stadium and the millions who followed it on the multi-media platforms had only one thought in mind and that was not about the game of cricket, but one where the famous words, “India Shining”, rang loudly through religious chants and cries of victory. All of this at the end had no significant outcome, as India succumbed to a better team on that day.
The Indian ODI cricket team of 2023 was the toast of every cricket lover. This side was considered to be the very best Indian One day side to represent the country. A team that was head and shoulders above the rest of the world. On paper, they definitely were, with the highest run-getter, the highest wicket taker and a plethora of scintillating performances by each one of them in this World Cup. A bad day at the office, as one says, cost them a title that they most deserved.
The script of the finals for the Indian side was brilliantly written, every player would play their part to perfection. The role for each one of them seemed beautifully crafted under the directorship of the legendary, dependable Indian batter, Rahul Dravid. There was not one lead actor in the Indian side, but many, all etching their names in gold. The side was the connoisseur of the cricketing world, being spoken of as one that was unstoppable in their way to achieving their final goal, the coveted Cricket World Cup Trophy.
What happened is the million-dollar question still rankling amongst their fans and followers.
The law of averages is one excusable reason. Well, this did not arise when the Australian side of 2003 and 2007 won the trophy without losing a game. A lame reason if there was one.
India got caught on a slow wicket. This was the same strip that was used when India played Pakistan and one that they were familiar with. Rohit Sharma, the Indian captain, was happy to bat on it first and in no uncertain terms mentioned it after the toss. He, as planned, went ballistic in the 1st power-play overs, and had India brilliantly placed till Trevor Head took the catch of the tournament to get him out.
India’s strategy of a slow track was not a secret by any imagination. Everybody seemed to know of it and this gave the Australians just the information to plan on. The field placement from the very first over, with a sweeper cover and a square leg were well thought out. Their bowlers needed to bowl the correct length to be effective and especially Cummins and his fellow bowlers did so extremely well.
The brilliance of the way in which they bowled and especially fielded became so significant when two of the world’s leading batters, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, were unable to get a boundary in over 90 balls.
The area that one never seems to take seriously is fielding. The Australian side showed how important it is, in the final result of the match. In the very first over, they saved over 10 runs and if one calculated the runs saved during the Indian innings, the Australian side would have been chasing another 40 runs at the least.
India was way behind in this department of fielding and KL Rahul behind the stumps landed up having a miserable off day.
The Australians read the conditions to the Tee. They opted to field on winning the toss and very astutely took the dew factor into their decision. This too proved to be a game changer, as the slow sluggish wicket of the afternoon became a wonderful one to bat on once the ball became older and the slight cover of dew set in.
Rohit Sharma and the Indian think tank, one feels, faltered on two accounts. The first while batting, the accelerated momentum that India had got initially, dwindled to a snail’s speed after India lost 3 wickets. The Indian batters who normally were known to blast the opponents in the middle overs, played cautiously.
The strategy of increasing the pace after the 40th over failed as wickets tumbled at regular intervals. The Australians had studied the Indian batsmen thoroughly, making them work hard to get their runs.
The only time one felt India was in the game, was in the initial overs of the new ball. India faltered there as well, by opening the bowling with Md Shami, rather than Md Siraj. Shami was bowling beautifully as a one-change bowler in all the previous matches.
Jaspreet Bumrah and Md Shami did have Trevor Head in all sorts of trouble, however, like he did so in the final of the Test Championship, he survived and played fantastically well thereafter. India failed to attack when the spinners were operating, hoping against hope to get a wicket, which did not materialize.
India definitely was the best side in the tournament, unfortunately, they were outsmarted and out maneuvered by a side known to be true gritty fighters. Well done, Australia, you did checkmate India systematically and were the rightful winners on the day.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)