It has been 12 years since India’s second World Cup win, when MS Dhoni hit the famous six and Sachin Tendulkar was celebrated by his teammates in Mumbai. Despite this historic victory, the pressure and anticipation in India only seems to have grown.
Without a doubt, on the day of the final match against Australia, the five-time champions who are surprisingly considered the underdogs, a state of excitement had already been reached. A large group of residents had congregated on the Motera road that leads to the entrance of the Narendra Modi Stadium, with fans cheering enthusiastically, drivers beeping their horns, and vigilant police officers and soldiers maintaining order.
As the Indian cricket team prepared for their final match at a sold-out stadium, including the prime minister, the most popular names on replica shirts were Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Despite their contrasting styles and personalities, they both share a strong determination to bring home a third title for their country, making them the top stars in the event.
As the figurehead and leader, determining whose name should be listed first here is not a simple decision. It may call for the strategy often used by Hollywood producers when faced with two equally impressive actors for a film poster: positioning one on the lower left and the other on the upper right, giving both equal significance. These could be the scattered musings of someone who barely made it out through the bustling crowd.
The veteran bowlers may complain about this, arguing that Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Ravindra Jadeja deserve to be at the forefront. India’s attack has been relentless in their 10 consecutive victories. The first two are a testament to India’s progress over the past decade, as they are now considered among the top fast bowlers in the sport’s traditional regions.
Kohli has consistently been the top performer in the production metrics, filling the void left by Tendulkar and recently surpassing his record of 49 ODI centuries. Kohli’s media presence, both on social media and traditional platforms, surpasses that of any other cricketer and most other athletes. As his nickname implies, Kohli reigns as the top player.
The captaincy was transferred from Kohli to Sharma in late 2021, even though Sharma is 18 months older. While Kohli has scored 711 runs with ease to lead the charts in this World Cup, Sharma’s contribution has arguably been more significant. Despite being known for his impressive individual batting performances, the opener nicknamed “the Hitman” has shifted his focus to setting a highly aggressive tone for the team.
The gear shift has been remarkable, not least at an age – 36 – when batters can become increasingly circumspect. Previously a patient starter who built towards a climax, Sharma has erupted during the powerplays; a player who drew criticism for a 27-ball 28 in last year’s T20 World Cup semi-final defeat to England has hit 550 runs at a strike-rate of 126, tearing chunks out of attacks early on and allowing Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul to then devour the wounded animal.
Rahul Dravid has been central to Sharma’s new role, one that could perhaps be dubbed “balls to the Wall” if this didn’t sound like the captain pushing back against his head coach.
During the semi-final against New Zealand in Mumbai, it was clear that Sharma’s 47 runs from 29 balls was overshadowed by Kohli and Iyer’s centuries. However, I believe that Sharma’s performance had the most significant impact during the match.
Sharma’s usual success was overshadowed by his six-ball duck in the win against Australia in Chennai, giving Sunday’s opponents a chance to prevent him from performing well. Pat Cummins and his team face many challenges in this rematch, including a large and potentially quiet crowd similar to the MCG. Any wickets or boundaries made by the team in yellow will most likely be met with silence.
Cummins, whose team has achieved eight consecutive victories, stated, “You must fully accept the situation. While the audience may be heavily biased, there is no greater satisfaction than silencing a large crowd. That is our goal. It’s important not to let yourself become overwhelmed. You must be ready for the challenge, embrace it and understand that whatever the outcome, it’s okay. The ultimate goal is to end the day without any regrets.”
Sharma was naturally asked how he planned to deal with the increased noise and expectations surrounding the upcoming event. He calmly responded, acknowledging the emotional significance of the occasion and the hard work and dreams that have led to this moment. He acknowledged that tomorrow, the day of the event, is approaching.
“As one of the 10 players, our focus will be on contributing to the team rather than getting caught up in the magnitude of the moment. While it is undoubtedly a significant event, it’s important to stay calm and focused in order to fulfill our roles as a cohesive team.”
This message does not need to be conveyed to Kohli, who is the only player remaining from the 2011 victory and one of the key players who helped lift Tendulkar. Although Kohli was a supporting member that night, he will now stand shoulder to shoulder with Sharma as one of the main stars during the anthems. With an estimated audience of over half a billion, this event is sure to be a huge spectacle, no matter what the outcome may be.
India’s probable lineup for the match includes Rohit Sharma as captain, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul as wicketkeeper, Suryakumar Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, and Mohammed Siraj.
Travis Head, David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Steven Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Glenn Maxwell, Josh Inglis as wicket-keeper, Pat Cummins as captain, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, and Josh Hazlewood are expected to represent Australia.