And then there were two

Australia have won the ODI World Cup five times, while India look for their third.

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Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins
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Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Well, well... it's the ODI World Cup final and we’re back at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. Back to where it all began just over six weeks ago. 

47 games of pure enthralling cricketing action - from teams wizarding their way to victory, and squads dominating the tournament beyond belief, to some going beyond what was destined and a few emptying their tanks, it has had a bit of everything. A script so freakishly good that it puts even the greatest of screenwriters to shame. 

While in India and across the length and breadth of the country, the drums will continue to beat, trumpets will be blown, jerseys will be worn, firecrackers will illuminate the night sky, and people of all ages will jump in verandahs like they are the ones lighting up stadiums across the globe. 

India and Australia in a World Cup final. We've seen that one before. We go back in time.  We go back to the south of Sandton in Illovo, Johannesburg. Two decades later, we have a replay of the 2003 World Cup final in the western side of India, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. 

It has been exactly 41 days since these two cricketing powerhouses kicked off their World Cup campaigns 1.6 km away from the Coromandel coast of the Bay of Bengal. Now, they are on the verge of scripting their destiny at a sold-out Narendra Modi Stadium, 64 km from the Gulf of Khambhat which flows into the Arabian Sea.

India

The boy from Nagpur, evolved in Borivali, mastered his craft around the Maidans of Mumbai, left out in 2011, and now captains his country to a World Cup final 12 years on. India's ongoing ODI World Cup has been like Leonardo Da Vinci doing Da Vinci things, painting their World Cup campaign so effortlessly to perfection. 

Another accurate way to describe their dominance - Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2020 in Paris against Novak Djokovic in the final. As destructive as ever, instilling fear into opponents, not too worried about the conditions, and blowing away teams for fun. A ridiculously dominant force at the peak of their powers. 

It's all coming together for India. Rohit's selfless nature has injected a lot of intent into setting a launchpad for a big total, while Virat Kohli has looked like he's going to get a hundred every time he goes to bat. He’s looked so good that if he padded up and went to bat on water, he'd probably get to his 51st in ODIs. 

A middle-order batter’s career is about suffering as much as it is about joy. Only a few care about conclusions when the beginning is so good that a perfect finish is expected nine out of ten times. Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul have made sure cricket enthusiasts give a damn about conclusions and have notched up three centuries between them.

India's fast bowling arsenal has been the talk of the town. While Mohammed Shami has 23 wickets in six games and has made every cricket fan drool over his seam position, India have 96 wickets in ten with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja all chipping in.

India and ICC knockouts have not made a happy couple in the recent past, but they have decided to give their love story another shot, and this time at home.

Australia

On the other hand, it was in 2011, when an 18-year-old Patrick Cummins signed his first Australian central contract. Again, 12 years on, he has clinched the World Test Championship title in London, retained the Ashes in England and has reached a World Cup final in a span of five months.

Australia’s 2023 World Cup campaign has been a bit like Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park in a final against Daniil Medvedev in 2022. Dented and broken, but always looked ahead. Hiccups, hardship and heartache but fought back, played every game like it was their last and made their way into their eighth ODI World Cup final. 

Australia usually turn up to the occasion. But at times, they need a bit of a reality check, don't they? That back against the wall, that feeling of something just not going their way. 

There's something about them when it happens, and this was Shoaib Akhtar on X when Australia were on the verge of losing to South Africa in Lucknow: "If Australia lose today, yeh baqi ka poora tournament sab pay ghussa nikaalay gi! Soch lain what you want (If Australia lose today, they will show their outrage at everyone the whole tournament. You decide, what you want)."

Guess what? They lost two on the bounce, went on to win seven on the trot, and chased a total in the semi-final on a dry Kolkata surface that spun miles against a side that had beaten them 15 out of the last 18 times.

Australia's top three have come to the party with David Warner, Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell all having individual scores above 150. Warner has gone about his business and at times shown glimpses of his 2016 self, while Travis Head has found ways to pull the trigger when required and also turned a few heads in Kolkata with his generational spin that one would tell their kids about.

Glenn Maxwell’s been his usual self, playing backyard cricket. Although Steven Smith has been a little uncharacteristic, Marnus Labuschagne’s presence has played a part. With the ball though, a lot depends on how much swing Mitchell Starc can extract while Josh Hazlewood and Cummins use their channels and angles to hit the dime in the corridor of uncertainty.

The big three have 40 wickets to their name but have lacked penetration in the powerplay. The big boys showed up against South Africa in the semi-final and the first ten overs after being put to bowl by Temba Bavuma spoke for itself. Adam Zampa's tenacity has helped Australia bring triumph. He's picked up 21 wickets in ten at an average of under 21.5 and has been captain Cummins' go-to man when Australia needed a breakthrough. 

Pitch report

There are going to be a few things present: umbrellas, wet towels, electrolytes, pickle juice and cramps. Conditions in Gujarat are expected to be sunny and temperatures will be on the higher side during the afternoon while the evening is expected to be a lot cooler. 

The surface at the Narendra Modi Stadium is a bit of a mixture. There are both red and black soil wickets. While the red helps the batters trust the bounce and play through the line, it allows the bowlers to hit the length and offers good carry. Black, on the other hand, is a lot slower and the frequency of play on the back foot might just go up a notch. To top it all off, it could be a mix of both which makes a good cricketing surface and a batter once set, will be in no mood to leave in a hurry.

Probable XIs:

India look cool, calm, composed and confident. They have had good breaks in between and are well-rested. No major selection headaches for Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma as India will probably stick to the same team that won the semi-final clash against New Zealand.

India: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj

Marcus Stoinis’ ability to play spin on tracks that turn has been a concern of late, Marnus Labuschagne’s form and ability to pull Australia out of a crisis situation helped him cement his spot even though the balance of the side was slightly off. But there have been recent murmurs of Stoinis replacing Labuschange in the middle.

Australia: David Warner, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Steven Smith, Marnus Labuschagne/ Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Josh Inglis (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood

So, come November 19, history leans towards Australia - the serial winners have won five out of their seven World Cup finals so far - but current form gives India their best chance to end the ICC drought. With Australia peaking at the business end of the tournament and India having a weight of 1.3 billion, a cracking contest is on the cards on a wild weekend in Ahmedabad.

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