Final Countdown

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were in high school when India and Australia faced off in a 50-over World Cup final two decades back

Final Countdown

(Photo:Raj Kumar/IANS)

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were in high school when India and Australia faced off in a 50-over World Cup final two decades back, but the memories of a star-studded Men-in-Blue getting hammered by 125 runs on March 23, 2003 in Johannesburg will foster a sense of deja vu that transcends time when the same opponents chase cricket’s ultimate glory at the Narendra Modi Stadium, here on Sunday.

In arguably the best display of power-hitting before the emergence of T20 cricket, Australia had posted a mammoth 359 for 2 riding on Ricky Ponting’s belligerent century before bowling India out for 234 at the New Wanderers Stadium in 2003.

However, over the past two decades, and in the post-T20 era, India have emerged as one of the best chasing sides, with Kohli leading from the front. The most recent example could be India’s opening game in the ongoing World Cup against the same opposition in Chennai when the home side was precariously placed at 2 for 3, before Kohli and KL Rahul anchored the chase to perfection.


The emergence of franchise cricket has toned down the rivalry between the sides over the years, but when the familiar opponents walk into the park on Sunday, hoping to lay their hands on the silverware, the battle lines will be drawn by unforgettable moments.

Title favourites India secured their place in the summit clash with an unblemished 10-match undefeated run while the Kangaroos resurrected their campaign with an eight-match winning streak after having started with two defeats.

“We want to take on the best. They’ve (India) been the best in the tournament so far. It’s why we play the game,” Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc said after a hard-fought semifinal win against South Africa at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.

Plagued by vulnerabilities in crunch knockout games, Rohit Sharma and Co has silenced naysayers with their dominance over New Zealand in the semifinal. And expectation in the cricket-mad country has particularly soared high since the last three editions of the World Cup have been won by the host nation.

On the batting front, Rohit has led by example, getting those brisk starts to unsettle the opposition up front, thus allowing the other batters to cash on to the advantage. Kohli, the tournament’s leading scorer, is in red hot form after slamming a landmark 50th ODI ton, and has been the team’s most dependable batter, while the likes of Shreyas Iyer (with consecutive hundreds), KL Rahul and Suryakumar Yadav providing the finishing touches to stay true to the template.

“All in all, the batting was superb, and that is the kind of template we want to bat with and move forward with,” Rohit said after winning the semifinal at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday.

As far as the bowling department is concerned, Mohammed Shami has bossed it after being in the sidelines for the initial four games, and the seven-wicket burst against the Kiwis in the semifinal has given him the wings to fly high in Ahmedabad. Jasprit Bumrah has been impressive as ever, while Mohammed Siraj would be itching to do an encore of his show against the Sri Lankans in the Asia Cup final in Colombo, not too long ago.

The left-arm spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja have provided India the balance in the bowling attack with considerable success on their quest for a third 50-over World Cup trophy.

Australia, on the other hand, will be hoping that their ability to produce big match-winners will spoil India’s party and earn them a sixth World Cup title. For that Travis Head and David Warner will be expected to provide the momentum right at the top of the order before Steve Smith anchors the show in the company of Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh and the rest of the batting order.

Skipper Pat Cummins will hope that his faster men replicate their semifinal form against the Indian top order before leg-spinner Adam Zampa, with 22 scalps in his kitty, delivers on the big stage.

All said and done, the stakes are high for both sides, more for the home team with a partisan 1,30,000 in-stadia crowd playing the role of the 12th man, as the countdown starts for a gripping Super Sunday!