In India they call them Jeb Katra, ‘pickpockets,’ though what Australia did to Rohit Sharma’s team in the World Cup final will feel much worse than being relieved of one’s small change after the home side had pretty much played the perfect tournament.
Has there ever been heartbreak on this scale after Pat Cummins’ Aussies beat just about everyone’s favourite last Sunday?
Forget the 130,000 stunned into a library-like silence in the Narendra Modi stadium. There was also a billion-plus TV audience, most of it wearing light blue and anticipating the glory that continues to elude this storied India team.
Never underestimate the weight of expectation such a vast following places upon a side. It can alter minds and while Australia had their most complete performance of the tournament, augmented by a brilliant chasing hundred from Travis Head, India enabled their opponents by being far too timid with the bat.
They did the same against England a year ago in the semi-final of the World T20, and lost that one too. They obviously feel the pressure of the big occasion, which is natural, but it’s as if they expect that pressure to double on their opponents.
Maybe with most teams it would, but Australia live for the big occasions, their ability to turn reservation into relish legendary. This was their sixth World Cup title out of 13.
Even the master calculator, Virat Kohli, arguably the game’s greatest 50-over batsman, seemed overly restrained, as if batting on a minefield. The pitch did not look great but Cummins, having won the toss and bowled first, had factored in evening dew to help in that regard.
When it arrived (enabling balls to skid on and batsmen to better time their shots), India knew their total of 240 would not be competitive despite the pre-eminence of their bowling attack.
The 50-over format is less revered than it used to be. The rise of T20 and even shorter forms has made many question its validity, broadcasters especially.
It might get a boost after Cummins said he had ‘fallen in love with the format again’, though he did qualify his claim by saying it was the World Cup he enjoyed rather than bilateral series.
Given the boost T20 cricket got when India won the inaugural World T20 in 2007, it may have been better for the survival of 50-over cricket had the hosts won on Sunday. India’s Cricket Board and government crave populism and winning a World Cup at home, even a 50-over one, would have created a groundswell to keep the format alive for another 30 years.
Instead, 50-over cricket will no doubt join Test matches on the doom- mongers’ endangered species list, even though it remains a cut above T20 for those of us who enjoy nuance with our bat and ball.
World Cup hits
Best innings: Travis Head’s hundred in the final, under massive pressure, will take some beating as the innings of the World Cup but it probably has to make way for Glenn Maxwell’s cramp-hit 201 not out off 128 balls against Afghanistan, which included ten sixes and 21 fours. Forget that he was dropped twice. People present at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium said it was beyond hyperbole – something that will not be emulated, let alone bested, for a very long time.
Captaincy: Pat Cummins and Rohit Sharma. Cummins’ leadership qualities were pilloried during the recent Ashes series and again when Australia lost their first two games in the World Cup.
But he blocked out the noise and showed his critics bowlers can make great leaders. Although outfoxed by Cummins on Sunday, Rohit led by example throughout, especially with the bat during Powerplays. His team might have been too timid during the final but he was the epitome of graceful savagery, at least until he got carried away and Head’s brilliant catch got rid of him.
Top bowlers: Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, India’s pace bowlers. Time was when India focused solely on spin but these two were world class during the tournament taking 44 wickets between them. On the spin front, Australia’s Adam Zampa excelled, despite giving off the air of a little boy lost. His 23 wickets, with wrist spin, were a major factor in Australia’s success.
Breakthrough: Afghanistan. Having never won a World Cup match from 12 attempts in previous tournaments they proceeded to win four in India, including against England. They possess fine spinners in Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman and an exciting opening batsman, Ibrahim Zadran. All they need are some quick bowlers to support Naveen-ul-Haq and they’ll put more noses out of joint.
Dignified exit: David Willey, who despite being the only England player not to be handed a new central contract, maintained dignity and high standards by taking 11 wickets in six games. Showed what he thought of England’s chaotic set-up by announcing his retirement from international cricket.
World Cup misses
Champs to chumps: England simply failed to turn up. Something scrambled their minds, though whether that was uncertainty over how best to approach matches or by announcing central contracts midway through their campaign (a bizarre decision), nobody is really saying.
They set out to play with T20 chutzpah but were slow to adjust when it became obvious this was only possible at certain venues and on certain pitches. Of the 93 matches played at this World Cup, just 25 saw scores in excess of 300. You had to gauge what a competitive score would be and manage your way to it, something England were hopeless at doing.
Mind the gaps: The International Cricket Council, who claimed a record 1.25million people attended the World Cup. Maybe, but from 48 matches it was a slightly disappointing figure in a country as populous as India. Stadia were only full for India’s matches and knockout games – a risk, perhaps, of having a 50-over World Cup in a country where T20 reigns supreme.
Under the weather: The dew was a problem. Waiting for it to form (or not) under floodlights during the second innings, exercised many a captain’s decision at the toss. When it came in the final, making batting easier, you could see India’s resignation that the game was up. That dew should play such a big part (it also hinders bowlers and fielders) is a nonsense. Luckily, solutions are at hand. Either add a meteorologist to the team’s support staff or play during daylight hours, like cricketers did before broadcasters hijacked the game.