India fell just short of fulfilling its country’s expectations after it had dominated much of this tournament, cruising to 10 consecutive wins and ratcheting up the pressure in this cricket-obsessed nation that has waited 12 years for another one-day trophy.
But its near impregnable batting line-up faltered in the face of Australia’s savvy bowling while Travis Head’s spectacular 137 off 120 balls anchored Australia’s run chase as it cantered towards victory and another World Cup trophy.
The host nation had won the last three World Cups. With India occupying the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, it was widely expected that pattern would continue, particularly at the 132,000-seat Narendra Modi Stadium.
India enjoyed a lightning fast start, scoring 80 runs in the first powerplay, equaling the record for a men’s World Cup final. Captain Rohit Sharma in particular produced metaphorical and literal fireworks that exploded above the stadium when he hit an enormous six into the stands.
But Rohit fell shortly thereafter, out to a brilliant Head catch as Glenn Maxwell’s bowling induced a leading edge. Shreyas Iyer was out soon after that, stunning the Indian crowd and recalibrating the game.
The run rate slowed as the pressure built, and Virat Kohli and KL Rahul sought to patiently rebuild India’s innings. But as soon as it seemed the pressure was waning when Rahul hit a boundary for the first time in 16 overs, Kohli was out for 54, chopping on to his stumps after a delivery from Australia captain Pat Cummins.
Cummins rotated his bowlers frequently, preventing India’s batsmen from settling into a rhythm, and after Kohli’s dismissal, no partnership really formed to contribute a big score.
Rahul battled to 66 off 107 balls, and the tail added some crucial runs to haul India to a respectable total but it always seemed like a difficult one to defend.
All the momentum had shifted to Australia, and that initially carried into the batting. David Warner and Head put on 15 runs in the first over before Warner got out in the second over to Mohammed Shami, giving India a sliver of hope.
Mitchell Marsh and Steve Smith fell shortly afterwards to leave Australia 47-3 and suddenly it was India with the momentum. Every play and miss provoked deafening cheers from the crowd, willing India to take another wicket and press home its advantage.
But an outstanding Head, who was named player of the match, and Marnus Labuschagne, who scored 58, built a partnership that tore the game away from India.
Head’s innings ended prematurely when he holed out two runs shy of victory leaving Maxwell to come on and hit the winning runs, prompting wild celebrations among the Australians.