Reasoning over acoustics: How World Cup final let big match execution tame the pageantry

Australia held nerves on the day that counted.

WrittenBy:Anand Vardhan
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Much before the big Sunday final of the World Cup was halfway, murmurs about the drift of the match began to hit a frenzied din reflecting home team support. But, counting on a recovery, if not the occasion, the decibels remained high. Not long though, as the Australians ensured that cricket reasoning tamed the acoustics of the showdown.

Away from the star gazing and the feverish pitch, cricketing factors finally found a way to prevail. As Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne stitched a stand that ended any hope of India’s way back into the match, they had stunned millions into silence. The pressure-soaking knack of stellar performance, nuances of strategy and reading of pitch conditions, and most significantly, the big stage delivery made their way to the centre-stage of the final. As Australia clinched their sixth World Cup title in the fifty-over format, their approach clinically foregrounded cricketing reasoning, unnerved by the raucous pageantry of the occasion.

Almost six months after winning the World Test Championship final against India at Oval in England, the Pat Cummins-led Aussie  side fought its way back after initial reversals in this World Cup on Indian soil. An Australian side picking at the right time of a long six-week tournament is always formidable, and one could hardly miss the historical parallel of the Steve Waugh-led 1999 World Cup Aussie team reversing initial setbacks at the right time in the course of finally winning the coveted trophy. The current team is not the most star-studded Aussie team that left one awestruck in the last few decades, but the ethos of the side remains unchanged.

At the same time, the Aussies were also aware of the formidable force that the Rohit Sharma-led Indian side had been over the course of the tournament. India had sailed to the final unbeaten in the league  phase, riding on its top order batting firing consistently as well as balanced bowling attack which had seen its potent pace battery seaming and swinging the ball and spinners doing their job at their end. Unlike India, Australia had dealt with some intense and nervy phases in its road to the final. Even its semi clash with South Africa, for instance, could have gone either way, and such matches tested the Aussie batting order in a way that the Indian side had been scrutinised only once in the league match against England.

In their strategy, Australians had some tactical clarity about the nature of the pitch and outfield and their skippers preferred to let the bowlers use it first. It was clearly thought out and brave enough for a final where the safer course is to put the score on the board first. Such clarity seems to have been missing in the Indian camp which, if they had a role in pitch choice, was more concerned about what would the opposition like rather than what had been the strength of their side. On a sluggish track, Aussie pace bowlers, Stars, Hazlewood and Cummins, were spot on in taking the pace off the ball, digging the ball shot enough to induce mistakes and keeping the length precise enough to make shot production risky. This ploy paid off in both slowing down scoring as well as inducing errors, exemplified by the way in which Cummins made Kohli chop the delivery to his stumps. At the same time, spinners, both the regular leggie Zampa and part timer Maxwell, put Indian batters under tight lease.

In the absence of a clear idea about what to aim for on such a surface, the confusion consumed many overs before it became difficult to accelerate as Aussie bowlers were also able to find reverse swing towards the end of the Indian innings. A long tail made it more difficult – perhaps India’ reliance on top order got exposed in the decisive match as its last four couldn’t be trusted for either rescue or the final push. The choking of run flow was well aided by terrific ground fielding and catching, something that can on any day separate a world beating side like Australia from a runner-up. 

In their tricky chase, as low scoring games many times are, Australians had the tournament muscle memory where they have found a way out from troubles. Against an Indian attack entrusted with defending a low score and under conditions which was expected to ease out for batting, Aussie batsmen weathered the initial reverses without losing tempo. Much of its credit goes to a counter-attacking 137 from Head, India’s nemesis at Oval early this year. But it was well-anchored by Marnus Labuschagne. After the initial  bite of first few overs which brought them three wickets in Aussie shaky but racy start, India’s spin as well as pace attack didn’t pose any trouble for Aussie chase of a low but tricky target. But, the chinks in the attack were visible in the high target chase in the semi-final against New Zealand too. There was a phase when Mitchell and Williamson had put the Indian attack under pressure and were crafting a fine chase before losing their way. In a better executed chase of a modest target in the final, those chinks became conspicuous.

As the conversations veered towards tactical moves, display of skill on the big stage, and the resilient counterattack of the Australian team, it was apt that the crowning event of the fifty-over format found its moorings with cricketing reasons. That’s what the original charm of sports is – the unscripted drama that lets a competitive display raise itself to a level of sublimity, and sometimes even to a rule-bound combat. A feature that led George Orwell to call modern sports as “war minus shooting”. 

The big Sunday final saw Australians foregrounding strategy and execution, rightly eclipsing the sideshow of frenzied pageantry. But even if it may sound cliche, the bogey of big stage temperament was back to haunt Indians as the Australian team outdid them in holding their nerves on the day that counted.


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