17/04/2024

Rohit Sharma will look to lead India to their third Cricket World Cup (Photo: @BCCI / X)

The Cricket World Cup will conclude on Sunday as the hosts and raging favourite India take on the in-form challenger in Australia. This is how India can win the match, and the cup:

Pre-match:

The biggest challenge is to manage the expectations of the local media and public, and to keep the team calm and focused.

Everywhere they go, the people are expecting them to win and bring glory to India. There will be no middle ground here: if they win, they will be heroes, however if they do not, no-one will want to know them.

India has a team of big personalities. Suryakumar Yadav has come into the squad in the last couple of years and quickly established himself as a generator; a vibrant personality that can be relied upon to create a positive atmosphere in the dressing room. Virat Kohli, of course, lifts the place with his sheer presence as soon as he walks in the door.

However, in the prevailing atmosphere of excitement and chaos, it is the calming influence that will be of the most use on Sunday. KL Rahul will be invaluable to India. He is settled and centred by nature, and such is the respect he holds within the group that they will feed off his calm. KL is a trusted lieutenant to captain Rohit Sharma, and will be leant on him frequently before and during the match.

India will play Australia, who they began their World Cup campaign against in Chennai. They bowled Australia out for 199 on that day, and whilst they lost three early wickets, they were untroubled in winning with almost ten overs to spare.

That means nothing now. Australia was unsettled during that match. They were without Travis Head who is probably their most dangerous batsman, and they seemed tired and listless. Six weeks later, they are a very different unit.

The Australians were very impressive in their semi-final against South Africa. They took the first four Protea wickets in the opening 15 overs and whilst the South Africans fought very hard as they always do, the tone of the match was set very early in the piece.

However, that was in Kolkata, with rain around in the twelve hours before the match and storms brewing, which meant that there was early assistance for the seamers that hasn’t been seen during the tournament yet. This will be in Ahmedabad, and that won’t be happening here.

Of the four matches in Ahmedabad in this tournament, three have been won by the team batting second.  The average score batting first at this ground is around 260, but the groundsman has said that 315 would be about par on Sunday, and India’s preferred method has been to bat their opponents out of the match.

If they win the toss, I think that they will probably bat first.

Batting the first 15 overs:

The Indians will look to set the tone for the whole match in the opening exchanges. Australia’s opening combination presents an interesting contrast. Mitchell Starc is at times erratic, whilst able to produce a wicket-taking ball seemingly on a whim; while Josh Hazlewood is almost metronomic in his accuracy.

Shubman Gill and Sharma tend to play good cop/bad cop with their opening partnership. The idea is that they will wrest the momentum from the opposition from the opening over, and it doesn’t really matter which of the two is lead executioner. Whoever is looking the most comfortable on the day will take the attack to the opposition, and the other will play the support role by rotating the strike, while putting the bad ball away with maximum effect.

Sharma will be conscious of the fact that left-arm pace has sometimes caused him a bit of grief. He has been dismissed 33 times by lefties in his career, so it may be Shubman’s day to take the lead, particularly against Starc. He is up to the task.

When the first wicket falls, Virat Kohli will come to the wicket. The Australians will not like to see the sight of Virat. He is a big-match player, and often saves his best for the green and gold. What India have done well in this tournament is perfect their handovers. Whoever is the not-out batsman when the first wicket falls will take on the role of attacker-in-chief, giving Virat the opportunity to settle in without any major detriment to the scoring rate.

After 15 overs they would aim to have around 80 runs. If they can achieve that, hopefully with no more than one or two wickets down, they would be confident about obtaining a defendable score.

Batting – Overs 15-40:

The middle overs are where India will look to assert their authority. They will back their middle order against anyone.

Shreyas Iyer at four and Suryakumar Yadav at six are two of the most prodigious talents that India has produced since the golden years of Tendulkar, David, Ganguly and Laxman. The two Mumbai batters can both hit the ball miles, and on the small sub-continental grounds have destroyed every opponent that has tried to quell their influence.

They are split by KL at five. As has been previously said, he is the calming influence that every champion side needs to succeed. The great thing about KL’s game is its versatility. If a couple of quick wickets fall, he can keep the scoring rate moving and manoeuvre the field by intelligent placement and sharp running. Although if the situation calls for the hammer to be put down, he can do this as well as anyone.

India expect that Australia will bring Marcus Stoinis into their line-up to replace Marnus Labuschagne.  He will bowl a few overs in the middle section, as will captain Pat Cummins, the wily Glenn Maxwell, the dangerous Adam Zampa and possibly, if Australia feel that a wicket is needed, Starc and/or Hazlewood for a couple of overs.

Zampa is their leading wicket taker this World Cup but the South Africa match showed that he can lose his line and length, and therefore his potency, through the use of fast footwork and decisive strokeplay.  There is no-one in world cricket that can do this like Virat at his best, and none more destructive than Iyer. India would hope that Zampa will bowl at them more than anyone else in their line-up.

If India has 220 runs in the bank at the 40 over mark they will be delighted, especially if they still have six wickets left in the shed. 

Batting the last ten overs:

The goal is always to have at least one of the top four still batting with ten overs still to come.  This serves a dual purpose: India has a batsman set and seeing the ball well, and also a pillar for the rest of the team to bat around.

They feel that they have the most intelligent number seven in the game in Ravindra Jadeja. Sharma doesn’t have to give Jadeja any instructions. He instinctively knows the right way to play any situation and he just has to let him go to work. Often if Jadeja comes to the wicket in the last ten overs he will bat right through til the end.

The standard of India’s batting generally falls away from here on, so the game plan revolves around Jadeja and whichever batsman is there with him taking the game deep. This allows the tail order to play 10-ball cameos in which they are instructed to hit the ball hard, and hit it often.

Most of the late overs will be bowled by Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood. India has gone to school on Starc’s yorkers and Cummins’s slow-ball bouncers in particular. These are their go-to deliveries at the death and they have been hard to score against, but the Indians know what they are looking for.

If all goes to plan India will hopefully finish with a score exceeding 300, but they will be confident that they have the attack to defend anything exceeding 270.

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Bowling the first 15 overs

This could be the stage of the game where the final could be won or lost. The team management will really be expressing upon their most athletic fielders; the likes of Jadeja, Yadav and Gill. They will help to set the tone and drive the mood of the group to start the innings.

India have taken note of the way the Australians started their semi-final. Warner and Labuschagne, in particular, were brilliant in the field backing up their bowlers. Fielding is all about attitude and desire, and if India gets this right, they will be in a good position to win this game.

They will, as always, be trusting Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj to bowl the early over. Warner and Head have been vital to the success of the Australians at the top of their order, but they look to go hard from the outset. Such an attitude is very much a high-risk, high-reward strategy, so if the Indian openers put the ball in the right areas there will be chances.

They will be setting Bumrah against the two left-handers, and will be asking him to hit their off stump. Bumrah is a proud Gujarati warrior, and will be keen to impress in front of his friends and family on his home ground.

He is also the sort of personality that can really rise to the occasion on special days like this. Sharma has no fear of him getting carried away by the hype. The bigger the game, the greater the challenge, the more he will thrive. If India are to win it would not surprise to see him crowned man of the match.

Following these two will be Mohammad Shami, who has been a revelation in this past month. India has long known that Shami is one of the great citizens of world cricket, and now the world knows it too. 23 wickets for the tournament and seven in the semi-final alone will do that. His impeccable control over line and length aligned to subtle seam movement will get him wickets for India on Sunday.

Bowling – Overs 15-40:

This is where India become very happy with the balance of the attack that they have at their disposal.

They have genuine wicket taking options in Bumrah and Shami. Sharma knows that he can trust Siraj to hit a line and length that will not vary, and this will allow him to set any type of field that the situation demands.

Then they have their spinners. Jadeja is their get-out-of-jail card. His left-arm orthodox tweakers are rarely attacked effectively as they are delivered with intelligence and expert variation.

The wicket is expected to get slower as the night goes on, and India will be suggesting that Jadeja should bowl reasonably quickly through the air to optimise any variation in pace that the wicket may offer. 

This is also the time where India’s left arm wrist spinner, Kuldeep Yadav comes into his own. There are few bowlers of his type in world cricket, and I dare say that there are none better than Kuldeep.

Often though, your great strengths can conversely be your weaknesses as well. Sharma needs to be very careful how he manages Kuldeep, and not be tempted to introduce him into the attack too early.  

Kuldeep could cause great trepidation to a batting order that does not, at times, play spin all that well.  However, if he is asked to bowl his early overs against batters that are set and looking to attack, he could get hit off his line and go for more runs than India would like.

Kohli will be pestering Sharma for a bowl, noting that he actually took a wicket in the semi-final against New Zealand. This will not be happening.

Bowling the last ten overs:

Ideally India’s spinners will, at this stage, have no more than one or two overs each to bowl, leaving the final overs to be shared between Bumrah, Siraj and Shami. If their opponents require eight runs per over at the 40-over mark, they will be confident in their attack’s ability to get the job done.

Siraj could be the trump card if the game gets tight. His improvement as a bowler in the last two years has been phenomenal, and he has been one of the unsung heroes in India’s charge to the final, not only for the wickets he has taken but also the wickets his pressure creates for others.

Sharma can trust him to bowl a hard line and length around the batter’s off stump, and know that his changes of pace will be subtle and difficult to counter. He will also know that his enthusiasm if he gets among the wickets is infectious.

This enthusiasm will be vital at the end of a long day and night. The last ten overs of an international are notoriously difficult to captain. Jadeja and Suryakumar Yadav will be tasked with keeping the boys up and firing, whilst Sharma will be leaning on the wise counsel that the studious KL and Gill will offer.

If the match is close, then Australia has a long batting order that can produce a late challenge from literally anywhere. They are an experienced, well-led unit and India needs to be ready to counter whatever is throw at them. Taking any chances that are offered in the field, be they for catches or run-outs, will be vital, and attitude is crucial to this.

If India happens to find themselves in a comfortable position late in the game, the sight of the celebrations of 130,000 delirious Indians inside the Narendra Modi Stadium will be uniquely joyful for both captain and crew. Sharma could wish for no more for himself and the team.

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