Rohit Sharma’s undefeated India will look to end a 10-year global title drought in front of 130,000 fans in the World Cup final against five-time champions Australia tomorrow.
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 an international title since the 2013 Champions Trophy and expectations in the cricket-crazy nation of 1.4 billion people have reached fever pitch.
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.
“This is going to be an unbelievable game,” former India captain Sunil Gavaskar, who was part of the 1983 World Cup-winning team, told TV channel India Today.
“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 victories, 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 group stage in Chennai four weeks ago where Pat Cummins’ side were bowled out for 199.
Australia also slumped to a 134-run defeat to South Africa in Lucknow but they avenged that loss on Thursday with a three-wicket win over the Proteas in a tense semi-final at Kolkata.
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.
Rohit is the next best Indian batsman with 550 runs and his leadership has been widely praised - former England captain Nasser Hussain called him a “real hero”.
India also boast the tournament’s leading bowler with Mohamed Shami taking 23 wickets in six matches, including 7-57 against the Kiwis on Wednesday.
Despite losing to India and South Africa in their first two matches of the tournament, 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 Australia’s top bowler with 22 wickets with pacemen Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, who both played in the 2015 World Cup winning side, peaking at the right time.
Starc and Hazlewood reduced South Africa to 24-4 inside 12 overs on Thursday after the Proteas and elected to bat first and their opponents only played catch up from that position.
Starc returned figures of 3-34 and Hazlewood grabbed 2-12 in the victory which set up their second World Cup final against India after 2003 when Australia raced to a 125-run win in Johannesburg.
Tomorrow’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 an explosive start from opener Rohit (47) and Shubman Gill (80) as they racked up 397-4 against New Zealand in the first semi-final.
But Hazlewood prefers to focus on the early stages of India’s chase against his team in the league game four weeks ago when India 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.
“We got them out cheaply. I think we made them 3-3 maybe so that would be ideal.”
Tickets have been sold out for tomorrow with a packed house expected and Starc said it will be “loud and a spectacle of cricket”.
India’s Rohit Sharma during practice in Ahmedabad ahead of the ICC World Cup final against Australia. Right: Australia’s captain Pat Cummins celebrates his team’s win at the end of the ICC World Cup semi-final against South Africa at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday. (Reuters/AFP)
Australia's captain Pat Cummins celebrates his team's win at the end of the 2023 ICC World Cup semi-final against South Africa at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday. (AFP)