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India eyes fairytale finish in World Cup final against Australia

India have racked up 10 straight wins at the tournament as they seek a third World Cup triumph
Captain courageous: India skipper Rohit Sharma celebrates his side’s World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand. AFP
Captain courageous: India skipper Rohit Sharma celebrates his side’s World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand. AFP

Rohit Sharma’s undefeated India will look to end a 10-year global title drought in front of 130,000 fans in the World Cup final against five-time champions Australia on Sunday.

India have racked up 10 straight wins at the tournament as they seek a third World Cup triumph to add to their 1983 and 2011 victories, the last of which came on home soil.

Despite the country’s cricket riches, India are without a major international title since the 2013 Champions Trophy and expectations in the cricket-crazy nation of 1.4 billion people have reached fever pitch.

However, the hosts are up against an Australian side who have won eight matches in a row and will be playing in their eighth World Cup final.

“We’ve won before,” Australia captain Pat Cummins said on Saturday.

“I think one of the pleasing things is I still don’t feel like we’ve played the complete game.”

‘Real challenge’ -

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar, a member of the 1983 World Cup-winning team, told TV channel India Today, “This is going to be an unbelievable game”.

“You are playing against the five-time champions, a team that knows how to come back from almost impossible situations, who know how to play finals, how to win finals.”

“So I believe it will be a real, real challenge for the Indian team but I do believe that Rohit Sharma’s men are up for it.”

Apart from their five World Cup titles, Australia clinched their maiden T20 crown in 2021 and also beat India convincingly in the World Test Championship final earlier this year.

India handed Australia a six-wicket mauling in the group stage in Chennai four weeks ago where Cummins’ side were bowled out for 199.

Australia also slumped to a 134-run defeat by South Africa in pool play but avenged that loss with a tense three-wicket semi-final win over the Proteas in Kolkata on Thursday.

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Red-hot Kohli

India made the final by hammering New Zealand by 70 runs in Mumbai with a red-hot Virat Kohli hitting a record 50th ODI century.

Kohli, who surpassed compatriot Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 tons, leads the tournament batting with 711 runs including three hundreds.

Rohit is the next best Indian batsman with 550 runs and his leadership has been widely praised – former England captain Nasser Hussain called him a “real hero”.

India also boast the tournament’s leading bowler with Mohammed Shami taking 23 wickets in six matches, including 7-57 against the Kiwis on Wednesday.

Despite losing to India and South Africa in their first two matches of the tournament, Australia have bounced back.

They won seven league games on the trot with a hobbling Glenn Maxwell authoring a performance for the ages with his undefeated 201 not out against Afghanistan, rescuing his team from 91-7 and carrying them to their victory target of 292.

Leg-spinner Adam Zampa is their top bowler with 22 wickets with pacemen Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, who both played in the 2015 World Cup winning side, peaking at the right time.

The new-ball duo reduced South Africa to 24-4 in Kolkata, with their performances key to setting up a repeat of the 2003 World Cup final – where Australia thrashed India by 125 runs in Johannesburg.

Sunday’s meeting will be the eighth between the two teams in ODIs in 2023.

“We have played them a lot of times so we know them inside-out,” Hazlewood told reporters.

“Same for them, with us. They have been a quality team, they have been on the march the whole tournament. No real weaknesses in their team, so looking forward to Sunday.”

India rode on the back of an explosive start from opener Rohit (47) and Shubman Gill (80 not out after retiring hurt) as they racked up 397-4 against New Zealand in the first semi-final.

But Hazlewood preferred to focus on the early stages of India’s pool chase against Australia, when the hosts were three down for two runs in pursuit of a modest 200 to win.

“Hopefully similar to last time we played them,” Hazlewood said on tackling the Indian top-order.

“We got them out cheaply. I think we made them 3-3 maybe so that would be ideal.”

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india

virat kohli

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Pat Cummins

World Cup 2023

Cricket World Cup