Good morning and welcome to game 48 of the 2023 Cricket World Cup. also known as the final, 45 days on from the replay of the 2019 final at the same venue, Ahmedabad, that started this marathon tournament. India, who have won 10 games in succession, and Australia, eight on the bounce, meet to find out whether the hosts can win their third World Cup to elevate them above West Indies as the second best team in CWC history, or Australia can win a sixth to stretch their dominance towards the stratosphere.
For the first time since their maiden victory in 1987, Australia come into the match as underdogs and, although their players have millions of fans for their long records of service in the IPL, they won’t find much evidence of it at Narendra Modi Stadium today. India, by head and shoulders the best team of the tournament, the most commanding of all World Cup campaigns bar 1996 and 2007, have counterintuitively found the perfect balance on the absence of their star allrounder Hardik Pandya, drafting in Mohammed Shami to shred teams with his pace and precision.
Everyone points to the weakness in their batting from No8 down but Australia also have a long tail which saved them against Afghanistan and in the semi-final. It isn’t about averages at this stage but the ability to prevail in a dogfight and both have it, along with their considerable skill, in abundance.
Where does this World Cup rank among its predecessors? It has felt like a coronation since India’s second match, following their arm wrestle with Australia in Chennai. It’s hard to put 2015 in perspective given this author’s memories of it are coloured by the long days’ journeys into night covering it and the delirium of doing so for six weeks leaving one with a jaundiced view. This has probably been the worst since 2007 in terms of close games for the leading contenders but at least, unlike 1999, 2003 and 2007, we can be confident of watching a pretty competitive final if Australia can keep their heads in the cauldron. Alan Tyers will be here for the second half of coverage and we will have inputs from Nick Hoult in Ahmedabad and Scyld Berry, among others. As for all the quibbling about quality, tell that to the sea of blue gathered inside the stadium and already making a racket.