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India eye fairytale finish in WC final against Australia

AFP . Ahmedabad
18 Nov 2023 21:19:17 | Update: 18 Nov 2023 21:19:17
India eye fairytale finish in WC final against Australia
Caption: India's skipper Rohit Sharma and Australia's skipper Pat Cummins pose for a photo with the World Cup trophy ahead of their 2023 CWC final match in Ahmedabad on November 19, 2023 — Courtesy Photo

India will look to end a decade-long global title drought in front of 130,000 fans in the World Cup final against five-time champions Australia on Sunday with captain Rohit Sharma claiming "we've spent two years preparing for this day".

India have racked up 10 straight wins at the tournament as they seek a third World Cup triumph to add to their 1983 and 2011 victories, the last of which came on home soil.

Despite the country's cricket riches, India are without a major international title since the 2013 Champions Trophy and expectations in the cricket-crazy nation of 1.4 billion people have reached fever pitch.

"Two years ago, since I became the captain, we have prepared for this day," said 36-year-old Rohit.

"We identified the players who will take part, they were given clarity in their roles."

Fans have organised special prayers across the country for an India win, media reports said, holding Hindu ceremonies asking for victory.

Ahmedabad buzzed with anticipation with life-size posters of Indian heroes including Virat Kohli up at local shops.

However, the hosts are up against an Australian side who have won eight matches in a row and will be playing in their eighth World Cup final.

"We've won before," Australia captain Pat Cummins said on Saturday.

"I think one of the pleasing things is I still don't feel like we've played the complete game."

'Real challenge'

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar, a member of the 1983 World Cup-winning team, told TV channel India Today, "This is going to be an unbelievable game".

"You are playing against the five-time champions, a team that knows how to come back from almost impossible situations, who know how to play finals, how to win finals."

"So I believe it will be a real, real challenge for the Indian team but I do believe that Rohit Sharma's men are up for it."

Apart from their five World Cup titles, Australia clinched their maiden T20 crown in 2021 and also beat India convincingly in the World Test Championship final earlier this year.

India handed Australia a six-wicket mauling in the World Cup group stage in Chennai four weeks ago where Cummins' side were bowled out for 199.

Australia also slumped to a 134-run defeat by South Africa in pool play but avenged that loss with a tense three-wicket semi-final win over the Proteas in Kolkata on Thursday.

Red-hot Kohli

India made the final by hammering New Zealand by 70 runs in Mumbai with a red-hot Virat Kohli hitting a record 50th ODI century.

Kohli, who surpassed compatriot Sachin Tendulkar's record of 49 tons, leads the tournament batting with 711 runs including three hundreds.

Kohli and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who has played just once in this World Cup, are survivors from the 2011 title-winning team.

For Australia, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, played in the 2015 World Cup final win over New Zealand. Cummins was part of the squad.

India boast the tournament's leading bowler with Mohammed Shami taking 23 wickets in six matches, including 7-57 against the Kiwis on Wednesday.

Since losing their first two games, Australia have bounced back.

They won seven league games on the trot with a hobbling Glenn Maxwell authoring a performance for the ages with his undefeated 201 not out against Afghanistan, rescuing his team from 91-7 and carrying them to their victory target of 292.

Leg-spinner Adam Zampa is their top bowler with 22 wickets with pacemen Starc and Hazlewood peaking at the right time.

The new-ball duo reduced South Africa to 24-4 in Kolkata, with their performances key to setting up a repeat of the 2003 World Cup final -- where Australia thrashed India by 125 runs in Johannesburg.

Sunday's meeting will be the eighth between the two teams in ODIs in 2023.


"We have played them a lot of times so we know them inside-out," Hazlewood told reporters.

"Same for them, with us. They have been a quality team, they have been on the march the whole tournament. No real weaknesses in their team, so looking forward to Sunday."

India rode on the back of an explosive start from opener Rohit (47) and Shubman Gill (80 not out) as they racked up 397-4 against New Zealand in the first semi-final.

But Hazlewood preferred to focus on the early stages of India's pool chase against Australia, when the hosts were three down for two runs in pursuit of a modest 200 to win.

"Hopefully similar to last time we played them," Hazlewood said on tackling the Indian top-order.