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Monday, June 24, 2024

Travis Head scores a brilliant century as Australia spoil India’s party to claim sixth Cup title

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“C’mon Aussie, C’mon Aussie, C’mon Aussie!”

This was the iconic tune that rang out of the colossal Narendra Modi Stadium’s speakers as Australia were crowned world champions for a record sixth time.

It had the dual effect of silencing over 100 00 people, including the Prime Minister himself, all clad in Indian blue inside this most spectacular of venues, while spoiling the planned celebrations of millions more around this vast nation.

This was not the planned script. The BCCI, with the blessings of Modi, had spent billions of rupees for the coronation not only of the mighty Indian cricket team here in his hometown, but also the country’s status as an emerging power in the global landscape.

Everyone forgot though to mention all of this to Travis Head and the potent Australian bowling unit.

Head supplied what India had lacked in their innings earlier in the day: a batter at the top of the order to make a hundred. His second of the tournament, and also a follow-up from his half-century that earned him the Player of the Match in the semi-final victory over South Africa.

All of this from a player that was still recuperating from a fracture to his left hand back home while Australia were losing their opening two matches of the tournament. But that all seems such a long time ago now.

Only the present matters, and this is where Australia reaffirmed their long, rarely interrupted dominance of the one-day game, and their particular affection for this Cup title they first won here in India almost 36 years ago.

Head did not play an uncertain stroke from the moment he entered the arena with David Warner in pursuit of India’s 241 victory target.

He played with both power and panache, striking 15 fours and four sixes in his majestic 137, with each boundary racing to the boundary in complete silence.

But after losing Warner (7), Mitchell Marsh (15) and Steve Smith (4) that provided hope to the masses, Head required a partner just to stabilise the run chase. He found the perfect man for the job in Marnus Labuschagne.

Together, they compiled a composed, studiously determined fourth-wicket stand of 192 from 215 balls which took Australia home to the dismay of millions.

In the process Head brought up his century off 95 balls with hardly a murmur of congratulatory applause, while Labuschagne also raised his bat for a half-century.

For India, they were left to process how a campaign that had progressed so serenely to the final with 10 victories on the trot had managed to crash and burn at the most critical stage.

A further bitter pill to swallow was that it was also India’s successive loss to Australia in a major final this year after Pat Cummins’ side already eclipsed them in the ICC Test Championship showpiece at The Oval.

Cummins had surprised all and sundry earlier in the afternoon when he called correctly and opted to insert the hosts. It seemed at that stage that he was handing the initiative to Rohit Sharma’s team, and when India raced to 30 without loss within the first four overs, the tide was certainly with the men in blue.

But Mitchell Starc is an experienced Cup final campaigner, and the veteran of the 2015 winning Australian team, dragged it back with the opening wicket of Shubman Gill.

India still seemed in command though with Sharma (47) and Virat Kohli intent on taking the attack to the Australian bowlers.

The game changer, though, came about in the 10th over. And yes, you guessed it, Head had a critical role in it.

Sharma had just smashed Glenn Maxwell for a six and a boundary, and attempted to go over the top again, but on this occasion he only managed to splice it over cover where Head sprinted back before diving full length to take a splendid two-hander.

Kohli went on to make 54, but he too was knocked by Cummins when well set. KL Rahul tried to keep it all together in the middle with a fighting 66, but Australia kept chipping away through Starc (3/55), Hazlewood (2/60) and the skipper Cummins (2/34) to restrict India to a total they ultimately cruised past in emphatic fashion.


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