Ahmedabad: An undefeated India will aim to end a decade-old drought for a global title when it takes the field for the 2023 Men’s ODI World Cup final against a mighty Australia at the Narendra Modi Stadium here on Sunday afternoon.
Led admirably by skipper Rohit Sharma and with every player in top form, India have notched up 10 consecutive wins in the tournament so far as they seek a third Men’s ODI World Cup trophy after winning 1983 and 2011 editions.
In front of nearly one lakh fans, India will be up against a five-time championship winning Australia side, who have won eight matches in a row till now and will be making their eighth Men’s ODI World Cup final appearance.
Surendra Bhave, who was a member of the senior men’s selection committee that picked the 2011 World Cup winning India squad, speaks exclusively to IANS about the marquee title clash, the areas in the match which could prove to be decisive, the excellent form of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Shami and more.
Q. How do you analyse this World Cup between India, who have won all ten games on the trot and Australia, who are on an eight-match winning streak?
A. That is the statistical difference between the two teams. Although Australia struggled in first two matches, they picked it up very well. India is extremely confident with their ten-match winning streak. It will be a good match and what comes to mind is, both teams will try to be at their best and try to bring their A-game to the Narendra Modi Stadium.
Although people are marking out some match-ups like Kohli v Zampa and Jadeja v Smith, I think it’s a battle between how India faces Australian fast-bowling and how Australia faces Indian spin plus fast-bowling. There also, India is at an advantage as this pitch tends to get little slower and I believe it to be a black soil pitch. So, India have very strong chances of winning their third World Cup. On many counts, they have looked a better team without a shadow of doubt.
Q. What are the areas where you think the final could be won or lost?
A. I personally believe first 10-15 overs of both innings are going to be extremely crucial. With the kind of fast-bowling we have, India will try to break through their batting order and they will also do the same because we were actually two for three (against Australia in Chennai), and then Virat Kohli plus KL Rahul played extremely well to take us out of trouble. India have shown inclination to go ultra-aggressive in first power-play with the bat.
It’s a delicate balance and I think India has to be just a little bit calculated there. Middle-overs will be dominated by them, whether they are batting or bowling. Why I say that is because when our medium-pacers come for second surprise spells, as well as when Jadeja and Kuldeep are in action, India have shown that they can control the middle-overs and have played extremely well in this phase. I personally believe first 15 overs in both innings will have a bearing on this match.
Q. Rohit Sharma has been giving explosive starts with the bat. How do you see his impact on this Indian team?
A. He’s setting up the momentum, isn’t he? That’s the thing as he’s going very aggressive against some of the best fast-bowlers in the world and has been very successful throughout this tournament. He’s setting up the pace and also making the two new balls from both ends little older or semi-new in that period.
His aggressive play has worked well for India on many counts and the ball stops swinging when Rohit Sharma starts attacking. That’s also one huge advantage of batting like that. But if Rohit Sharma gets a start like that again, I would like to see him nail the entire 50 overs and get a 150 for himself.
Q. Virat Kohli has been in astonishing form in the tournament and is leading the run charts. How do you see his blazing form being the foundation for India’s success so far?
A. Without a shadow of doubt, he’s been a glue of the batting order in this World Cup. Great players like Virat Kohli do find an extra gear when it comes to World Cup cricket. We are extremely fortunate to see this kind of form from Virat Kohli because from that number three position, he’s almost controlling the entire match.
If you number three is in such a great form, then you have insurance against little bit of dodgy start, as well as of getting the job done from numbers six, seven and eight. It’s working wonders for India because he’s the common denominator in most of the good partnerships the team has had in this World Cup.
There’s an ability in great players that after achieving so much, they can still find that extra bit of motivation to go that extra mile and Virat Kohli is certainly doing that.
Q. KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer have been in fantastic form for the middle-order. What is your opinion on their good showings with the bat in this World Cup?
A. It’s the camaraderie in the team. Like, what happens is, one good performance by a quality player rubs on to the others, who then start to think that when my time comes, I have to put in the performance to be counted. This is what is exactly happening with this Indian team, which is the sign of an outstanding, well-groomed and well-oiled side. KL Rahul’s batting has been superb; Shreyas Iyer’s batting has been fantastic.
He’s a long hitter of the ball and if he stays on the pitch for 60-80 deliveries, he can do some damage to the opposition. I really appreciate one part of KL Rahul’s game – his wicket-keeping. How good he’s been with his gloves, absolutely outstanding with DRS calls. For a guy who doesn’t regularly keep wickets, his performances have been out of this world. I pray to God that he gets one more good game and helps India to achieve third World Cup trophy.
Q. Mohammed Shami has been on top of the tournament bowling charts and has been leading the envious bowling line-up. How crucial does his spell become ahead of the final?
A. There are so many players playing outstanding cricket at the same point of time. That is the reason why India is doing so well and beating teams comfortably with huge margins, which has also been a feature. Shami, with his seam position and everyone knowing what he can do with the ball, has been absolutely amazing and has shown great control.
He’s doing the talking with the ball and every time I talk about Shami, what goes through my mind is the eight deliveries he bowled to Ben Stokes to completely destroy him mentally. It was an unreal spell, ending with him being cleaned up.
The control he has on swing and the constant carry to the wicket-keeper with consistent lines that even if he pitches it full, the batters will find it tough to hit him for four. He bowls a pretty full length for a fast-bowler who’s not very tall – that underlines how good Shami has been in this World Cup.
Q. A word on the support staff, led by head coach Rahul Dravid, for keeping the team focused and charting out the strategies for this World Cup campaign.
A. There are so many players playing one tournament and are in form of their life. That’s what India wanted and talking of peak performance, there’s been no better example than this World Cup so far. India have been superb as a unit. Due credit should go to the support staff – chief coach, batting coach, bowling coach, fielding coach - of building and servicing the team in such a smooth manner.
They have done an outstanding job with this team. You can’t play a tournament like that just on flair and talent; you need sound planning. With the way the team has been playing, the evidence is there that the planning has been very sound; the team is in a very relaxed state of mind.
Generally speaking, their headspace has been very outstanding so far and they have been cool, calm, collected with their performances. I am sure the support staff have done a great job with this team. As a coach, I understand that a lot of good inputs have gone into this team.
One more thing you are assured of with Rahul Dravid is sensible and clear-cut communication with players. That’s also pretty evident in his top-class communication skills. He thinks and communicates in a certain manner which is appreciated by players I am sure and that’s why the team is clicking as it is now.
It is actually a gift as in modern-day cricket, quality communication is a big plus. Knowing Dravid very well, I am sure that his communication with the team must be top-class and that’s why we are seeing results like this.
Q. If India manage to get the trophy in Ahmedabad on Sunday, what would this victory mean to this team and country overall?
A. 1983 and 2011 wins were of different generations. Even if you have two members from the 2011 squad out of this team, this World Cup will also belong to this generation – the likes of Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul, with Rohit playing a big role as a captain.
Three different generations, three different styles of winning cricket matches and three outstanding stories of success. The first World Cup victory in England was outstanding and a trend-setter.
2011 was a superb campaign under Gary Kirsten, and lost only one match to South Africa in Nagpur. I was fortunate to be one of the selectors that time. Every Indian would be hoping and praying that the final is played well and the team wins their third World Cup.