Until Sunday night, the Men in Blue offered triumphant stories and sunshine moments. They were the best team in the World Cup by a distance, defeating all opponents in the round-robin league phase and quelling New Zealand in the semifinal. To win 10 games on the trot is a remarkable feat and Rohit Sharma’s men deserve respect.
However, sport is never about the fairytale finish. Sir Don Bradman was dismissed on a duck during his last innings. Many leading stars have hobbled away with injuries. Sport at the highest level is both exhilarating and soul-numbing. India again learnt it the hard way after losing the World Cup final by six wickets to Australia here at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
For almost the entirety of its campaign, India set the tone in the PowerPlay segment, both in batting and bowling. Rohit’s explosive willow and the rollicking spells of Jasprit Bumrah and the two Mohammeds – Shami and Siraj – always meant that the opposition was gasping right from the first ball.
The climax pitted the two best squads and on the day it mattered, Australia prevailed. Cricketing glory is often linked to a certain rhythm, at times labelled as momentum or quantified as being in the zone, and on Sunday, the men from Down Under owned these nuggets.
Every decisive small moment that had a big impact was seized by Australia. It started first with fielding as almost the entire carpet was manned and Travis Head lent the impetus with his outstanding catch to stifle Rohit’s knock. Later in the night, he returned to score an incredible 137 that put to shade India’s laboured 240 in 50 overs. Australia also bowled well with tight lines that dried up India’s boundaries.
Like the 2003 World Cup final against the same opponent at Johannesburg, wherein India emerged second-best, a similar fate awaited the current Indian outfit against Pat Cummins and his merry troops. Back then, the game was surrendered once India adopted an ultra-aggressive approach with some words thrown in and the Australian batters capitalised against a wayward Zaheer Khan and company.
Cut to the present, India did the opposite and shrunk itself into a defensive shell as wickets kept falling and a significant alliance proved elusive on a sluggish pitch. It is again credit to the Aussies that they forced the host to play second-fiddle. During the chase once the dew settled in, it got a lot more easier for the visitors despite being restricted to 47 for three in the initial part. Head and his 192-run fourth-wicket partnership with Marnus Labuschagne shut India out of the game.
When the dust settled, Virat Kohli (765) and Shami (24 wickets) were the tournament’s highest run-getter and wicket-taker respectively. Rohit (597) had the second-highest tally. This was a superb Indian unit, just that on Sunday, the better team won. It always happens in sport. Unpredictability is its elixir, else why would we watch it in the first place?