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IT’S NOT EASY to turn down the volume on 92,453 expectant spectators but Australia managed it at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad overnight, on their way to claiming their sixth one-day cricket World Cup.  

The victory means the Aussies have now won an unlikely treble, with the team claiming the World Test Championship and the Ashes in the same year, affirming skipper Pat Cummins as perhaps the best captain in world cricket.

It was an unlikely victory, achieved by some of the stalwarts of Australian cricket over the last decade—Smith, Warner, Starc, Hazlewood, Labuschagne and, of course, Cummins, all of whom play in the Test team. Yet at the same time, the win had an air of fatefulness about it, a feeling that began to take hold after Travis Head’s remarkable catch to dismiss the pulverising Rohit Sharma in India’s first power play. From that moment on, you wondered if this might be Australia’s day.

Cummins decision to bowl first had a lot of lounge-room experts scratching their heads. What was our increasingly talismanic captain thinking allowing India the chance to put runs on the board in front of their adoring fans; to let their fast bowlers start under lights where they have been devilishly tricky to handle all tournament? It seemed like madness. The decision was even more puzzling given Australia’s past three successful chases involved a Glenn Maxwell miracle, a demoralised Bangladesh, and a crawl to a small total against South Africa.

Cummins said afterwards that the toss had been something of a toss-up, but that he believed the wicket would get easier to play with dew becoming a factor as the game wore on. He then set about making sure his bold decision proved to be the right one with crucial spells of tight bowling that put the clamps on India’s much vaunted middle order and claimed the crucial wicket of Virat Kohli who, coming into the game, was the tournament’s leading run scorer.

India had won all ten of their qualifying games heading into the final and looked to be the best team in the tournament. Australia, meanwhile, lost their first two games and looked shaky. Back then few Aussie supporters, if they’re being honest, could have predicted a path to victory. The team looked old and slow in conditions they have always found challenging; Cummins had only captained the one-day team four times prior to this tournament.

Slowly but surely, though, the Aussies rounded into shape, their fielding in particular becoming web-like. Perhaps Maxwell’s remarkable double-century against Afghanistan was a sign the universe was on Australia’s side. In a knockout tournament, you need a bit of luck, of course, but also a touch of the sublime—if you can recall the then unknown Inzamam-ul-Haq’s 60 from 37 balls to lift Pakistan to a crucial victory over New Zealand back in the 1992 World Cup, or Andrew Symonds’ classic 143 in South Africa in 2003, an innings that probably saved the burly Queenslander’s career.

Sometimes great feats can spur a team to start believing in manifest destiny. Maxwell’s 201 not out was the kind that made you think just about anything was possible. Of course, this is merely the work of hindsight, always a handy ally in constructing a conclusive narrative.

Similarly, with the benefit of hindsight, you could perhaps have looked at India’s imposing record going into the final as a bad omen. Perhaps it’s best in big tournaments to get a loss out of the way early. To puncture the players’ hubris, to humble them on a lower stage rather than under the brightest lights; to force them to find an edge.

The game itself had similarly fateful moments. With Head’s catch of the lethal Sharma you could feel the gears of fate grinding Australia’s way. A catch like that can turn a match, just as Herschelle Gibbs’ famous drop of Steve Waugh back in the 1999 tournament helped Australia secure a semi-final birth—Waugh famously thought so, asking Gibbs how it felt to drop the World Cup? Cummins’ dismissal of Kohli, when he was on 54, was another turning point, and another moment when the crowd was swallowed up.

Now to Head’s century. Perhaps the catch had given the moustachioed left-hander an injection of confidence. Maybe it made him feel like this was going to be his day. Confidence is an elusive quality; you grab it where you can.

Australia had begun their chase boldly, scoring 16 runs off the first over, before staggering to three for 47, when Steve Smith was trapped LBW. The crowd in the stadium and over a billion watching around the country roared as one. In such circumstances the mercurial but seemingly serene Head might have been one of the few batsmen in the world unfazed by the gravity of the situation as he strode to the wicket. A man whose moustache recalls or perhaps honours Aussie cricketers of the ’70s and ’80s, the South Australian is an enigma capable of playing extraordinary innings on the biggest of stages. It was his century that tilted the WTC final against these same opponents Australia’s way back in June.

Now, he would do it again, accelerating after a slow start that saw him plod to 10 from 23 balls before launching an assault on Mohammed Shami, India’s leading bowler in this tournament, dabbing a four, then driving another. Next, he went after Suryakumar Yadav, unleashing a slog sweep for six that brought another round of overwhelming silence.

With Marnus Labuschagne offering solid support, the two began to reel in India’s total, silencing the crowd and a nation, once and for all. You can imagine the sick, foreboding feeling growing in their chests; the grim realisation that this wasn’t going to be their day.

Sometimes, in sport, it can feel like the game is following a script, guided by an unseen hand. It’s rubbish, of course. The reality is a victory is built on a series of moments that could have gone the other way. But one moment builds upon another, confidence grows, players start believing in themselves.  

In that vein then, as the match wore on, perhaps Cummins and the Aussies felt somewhere inside them that after their victories in the Ashes and the WTC final that this was not just their day, or their tournament. Maybe they felt that it was their year.

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