India could not have asked for anything more in their favour.
They had the best batter and bowler in this World Cup in Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami and all the form and momentum from 10 successive victories going into a home final in front of one of the largest and most one-sided crowds in cricket history.
Goodness, they even had the audacity to dictate to the ICC what type of pitches they wanted, not that anyone who saw England triumph in the 2019 World Cup despite ‘home pitches’ that could also have been made for India will believe this is a new development.
But when the crunch came, when it appeared it was the destiny of Kohli to crown his magnificent career by dominating in a winning home World Cup after carrying Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders as a young buck when they won in Mumbai 12 years ago, India simply blew it.
South Africa are rightly considered the ‘chokers’ of international cricket and nothing that happened in their defeat by Australia in the semi-finals of this tournament after a mostly dominant group stage will do anything to change that perception any time soon.
Virat Kohli was denied the chance to crown his brilliant career by winning a home World Cup
India captain Rohit Sharma cuts a dejected figure after seeing his side lose the World Cup final
But, whisper it, India run them close. They lost in the semi-finals of the last two 50-over World Cups and have now become the first ‘hosts’ since the West Indies in 2007 not to win what is still the most important trophy in international limited-overs cricket.
India, indeed, have lost only four of their last 28 matches at 50-over World Cups and three of them have come at the last-four stage. And anyone who was in Adelaide last year when England trounced India in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup will take the point.
In fairness not many sides in any sport play under such pressure and with such great expectations as India. Not only were all but a handful of yesterday’s near 100,000 crowd decked out in blue and expecting an India victory – not to mention another billion or so supporters at home – but among the audience was Prime Minister Narendra Modi looking for a boost by association to his forthcoming election hopes in the stadium built in his name.
But the final didn’t follow what appeared to be a script written by India themselves. In so many ways it serves them right. It takes a supremely arrogant home board to insist on conditions that, in theory at least, suit them but India were hoist by their own petard on a pudding of a used Ahmedabad surface that did little for stroke-play and the spectacle.
How depressing, too, was some of the reaction to Mail Sport’s revelation that India insisted on a different pitch to the one favoured by ICC pitches supremo Andy Atkinson for the semi-final against New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium.
It was summed up by the most myopic of India commentators in Sunil Gavaskar who called us ‘morons’ for daring to report on a story that, in truth, should have caused outrage throughout the game. But of course it won’t because India have all the power in the game and the money – so don’t expect any player wanting an IPL contract to question them.
Gavaskar, sadly, was among a plethora of TV commentators selected by the host broadcaster for yesterday’s final but, inexplicably, Michael Atherton who, with Mail Sport columnist Nasser Hussain remain the two best voices in the sport, wasn’t among them. Only Sky subscribers yesterday were given the benefit of Atherton’s wisdom before and after the final.
It seems cricket, sadly, is determined to follow the trend in football which seems to demands commentators have an association with or support one of the participating sides. And never mind if, like Matthew Hayden, they should be let nowhere near a microphone.
Australia are world champions yet again after winning the Cricket World Cup final in India
But we must, for once, be gracious to Australia if not some of their commentators. They could easily have imploded, like England did, when they lost their first two matches in this tournament but Australia teams never seem to do that. No 5-0 Ashes demolitions for them and no World Cup capitulations like the outgoing 50-over world champions either.
It would have been easy for Australia to implode yesterday when Steve Smith wrongly became their third wicket to fall in a chase of 241, spookily similar to New Zealand’s target in 2019. And why on earth didn’t Smith review the decision? So unlike him and Australia.
But in Travis Head they had a worthy hero. Popular if not always prolific during his time at Sussex, Head is one of Australia’s unsung heroes and this was one of the great innings in a World Cup final. It came after a tournament that could so easily have been ruined for Head by injury too.
So the World Cup had the right winners at the end of a tournament that again was far too long and presumably won’t get any shorter in 2027 in South Africa if it is enlarged to 14 teams. The 50-over World Cup will clearly survive for now – and the 2031 edition has already been earmarked for back in India – but administrators need to protect and nurture it. Don’t hold your breath on that from either the ICC or BCCI.