Australia stunned host India in Ahmedabad to win the men’s Cricket World Cup for a record sixth time. Pat Cummins’ men waltzed past the finish line with six wickets and seven overs to spare, quietening the wild support from the 92,453-strong crowd at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
The win caps off a sensational 2023 for Australia, in which it also beat India to win the World Test Championship (WTC) and retained the Ashes in England.
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The Australian selectors and team management must be lauded for their bold decisions. Travis Head was the star with his counter-attacking hundred, becoming the seventh player to do so in a World Cup final.
Head, who was in danger of missing this tournament after breaking his hand in September, was retained in the World Cup squad so he could make an impact in the latter half of the competition. He did not play in the first four games but scored 329 runs at an average of 54.83 with a strike rate of 128 after his comeback.
Head had a hand in two key dismissals in both knockout games: Heinrich Klaasen with the ball in the semifinal and Rohit Sharma with a stunning catch in the final. He has now been named Player of the Match in the semifinal and final of the World Cup and the final of the WTC.
Australia’s decision to give another chance to Marnus Labuschagne also paid off handsomely. Originally left out of an 18-man squad for the tournament, the middle-order batter ended up playing every match of the World Cup and was involved in a 192-run partnership — the second highest in a World Cup decider after Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn’s unbeaten 234 against India in 2003 — with Head that proved to be the backbone of Australia’s World Cup triumph.
Wicketkeeper Josh Inglis, preferred over Alex Carey, made a crucial 28 in a nerve-wracking, low-scoring chase in the semifinal before finishing with five catches, the most in a World Cup final.
Another key contributor to Australia’s golden glory was leg-spinner Adam Zampa, the lone specialist spinner in the squad after Ashton Agar was ruled out with an injury. Zampa looked the most penetrative with the ball in the middle overs (11-40), as attested by his 17 wickets — most in that period, at an economy rate of under six. With figures of one for 44 in the final, he also equalled Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan’s record for the most wickets (23) by a spinner in a single men’s World Cup.
Along the way, he also bagged three consecutive four-wicket hauls, against Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the Netherlands.
“His control of his length has been the best that I’ve seen,” Australia’s bowling coach Daniel Vettori had said earlier.
“I think we all know the skills and the variations that he has, but his ability to land the ball on the spot time and time again gives most teams limited opportunities to attack him. It’s all about the length of control for him, because all the other skills are there. But when you combine that, he’s almost unplayable.”
It would be remiss not to mention Cummins, who is now the first specialist fast bowler to lift the World Cup. And to think that his leadership skills were under scrutiny when his side began the tournament on a shaky note!
The right-arm quick had a memorable night in Ahmedabad, starting with his tactically sound call to bowl first on a dry pitch, the key wickets of Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer, and excellent bowling and fielding changes. India’s top-order collapsed cheaply, and Cummins was quick to cash in, getting his sixth and seventh bowlers, Mitchell Marsh and Head, to rifle through their quotas, even resorting to 10 one-over spells at one stage. In total, there were 22 bowling changes in the final. So, at no point did he allow the innings to drift.
His value as a lower-order batter also did not go unnoticed; not for the first time this year, he helped to get his team over the line in the semifinal against South Africa. Before the final, Cummins had said that he regarded Australia’s 2015 World Cup win — where he was carrying drinks — at home as his greatest moment in the game. Eight years later, he has his own moment to cherish in a year where he has had to overcome personal loss. It was during Australia’s four-Test tour to India earlier this year that Cummins had to return home to be with his ailing mother, Maria, who passed away during the fourth Test in Ahmedabad.
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Then there were the two old warhorses who stirred up shock and awe in equal measure with their telling contributions. First David Warner, who, with back-to-back centuries against Pakistan (163) and Netherlands (104), continued to give rapid starts up top, proving especially beneficial when Head wasn’t around.
However, the left-handed opener has already confirmed he won’t take up a central contract if offered one next year and is unlikely to be available for the white-ball series at home against West Indies later in 2023.
Second, Mitchell Starc, who may not have achieved the lofty standards of the previous editions, still stood up to be counted in the two knockouts. His figures against South Africa in the semifinal were three for 35, which he then followed up with yet another three-wicket haul in the final against India while conceding 55.
What makes Australia’s achievement even more remarkable is the fact that this is the first time since 2007 in the West Indies that the men’s World Cup hasn’t been won by the home team.
“This year will be a year we remember for a long, long time,” Cummins said after the final. “It’s been awesome. (We’ve) pretty much spent the whole Aussie winter overseas playing. But we’ve had a lot of success. This pips it all. This is the top of the mountain.”
Australia was on a mission. Four years after being humbled in the 2019 semifinal by archrival England in Edgbaston, the Men in Yellow ultimately proved to be unstoppable in their journey of redemption.
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