The 92,453-strong crowd had begun to file out of the massive stands. The predominant colour of the day, blue, gradually faded out, baring the empty fluorescent orange seats. A brooding silence descended on the largest cricket stadium in the world. The only sound was that of breaking hearts and the applause from Australia’s dug-out as they inched closer to their sixth World Cup title — perhaps the most unprecedented of them all.
The departure of Travis Head, for a stellar 137 off 120 balls, evoked little applause.
A ball later, Glenn Maxwell would belt the winning runs with six wickets in hand, and the men in canary yellow stormed into the middle for celebrations. Crackers wormed into the gloomy skies, some of the Indian cricketers collapsed on the ground, tears rolling down the eyes of Mohammed Siraj.
A sense of disbelief rang in the ground, this was supposed to be the day of India’s coronation, but it turned out to be the night Australia seized the crown back from England.
The day’s hero, Head, a fortnight before the World Cup had sustained a fracture on his hand, making his trip to India almost impossible. The injury would heal miraculously, and he rejoined the team to top-score in both the semi-final (62 off 48) and the final, apart from his rope-a-dope century against New Zealand, when their semi-final hopes were hanging by a thread.
After the game, when Head was asked about those frustrating days of injury, he would say: “It’s a lot better than seeing the World Cup on the couch at home (on his injury). I was a little bit nervous but Marnus (Labuschagne) played exceptionally well and soaked up all the pressure.”
An ecstatic Labuschagne, whose unbeaten 58 off 110 balls was as vital as Head’s hundred, would break down in joy. “It’s the best achievement I’ve ever been a part of. India have been the team of the tournament, they’ve been unbelievable, but you know, if we played our best cricket we’re a chance,” he would tell the broadcasters.
They preserved their best cricket for the final, but it was ultimately a triumph of Australia’s indefatigability.
Adversities don’t crush them, setbacks only toughen them; the steeper their challenges, the harder they are to beat. Their trek to the final was long and arduous—so often they looked like slipping down the abyss.
Their campaign began disastrously, losing to India and South Africa; they were pushed to the brink at least thrice in the remaining six group games. On the precipice of defeat against England, written off against Afghanistan, and pushed to the edge by New Zealand. But Australia survived, striding past every hurdle on their path, as they always do. From blindspots and dead-ends, they navigate their way back to the pastures. Bend and squeeze them, twist and toss them, they remain unbroken.
In both the knockout games, against South Africa in the semi-final and India in the final, they seldom looked in utter control of their destiny. Both times they bowled with fire and incision, but the batsmen would push them to narrow corners. But they did not wither.
In the semi-final, the lower-order clung on and made vital runs to steer them to the shores of safety. Against India, the mustachioed counterpuncher Head would weather an early storm and guided them to the peak they had inhabited more than any other team in the history of the 50-over version of the game.
No other country has wielded such unflappable domination as Australia has in Tests and ODIs. No other country would perhaps rule cricket as much as they would. There could be more moneyed teams, those that have players of superior calibre, but few match the sheer fortitude of Australia, a virtue that cricketing academies cannot inculcate.
What makes this triumph even more endearing for the Aussies would be that the men of Pat Cummins had not the twinkling aura of Steve Waugh’s Invincibles and Ricky Ponting’s Unbeatables.
This team was more in the mould of Allan Border’s Warriors of 1987. That was a young team of talented yet not world-beating names. Some of them, like Steve Waugh, Craig McDermott and David Boon, would indeed retire as legends of the game. In the build-up to that tournament, they were not among the favourites. But they fell, and rose, stuttered and sprung back, to lift the trophy, the first time of their six triumphs.
Even the 1999 victory was not without the slip-ups, but Australia clung on, fought on and then in the final, hammered Pakistan. It was the beginning of a legacy — they would win in 2003, 2007, and 2015.
Like in 1987 and 1999, they unearthed new heroes during their journey to the pinnacle. Spin bowling department was their supposed fallibility. They had packed just one specialist spinner in the squad, Adam Zampa. But Maxwell filled up the second-spinner duties with aplomb; Head would chime in with two valuable wickets against South Africa.
Before the tournament, Warner’s supposedly waning prowess was a concern. He would score 535 runs in the tournament. Captain Cummins admitted that he is still nuancing the workings of the format, leaked 6.05 runs before the final, but in the match that mattered the most, he produced his sharpest performance of the tournament.
The largely untested gloveman, Josh Inglis, made tough runs in the semi-final while Mitchell Marsh smacked two hundreds of hurricane effect; Maxwell would strike the double hundred for ages.
Perhaps, it was the awareness of their vulnerabilities that powered them to the title. Perhaps, its destiny, or perhaps it is what writer John Arlott called Australianism, “Where the impossible is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe they can do it…and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them.”
The spirit of Australianism has burned India in the past, as recent as June this year when they beat them in the World Test Championship final, and it broke their hearts again on an eerily quiet night in Ahmedabad.