‘Always expect the unexpected in India’: Australia’s World Cup final motto

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Heading into the World Cup final in Ahmedabad as massive underdogs against India, Australia are looking to put the crowning glory on an era which is fast coming to an end.

The Narendra Modi Stadium holds no fears for Pat Cummins’ men, who have already beaten England there during this tournament and played out a Test draw at the ground earlier this year.

There is always the suspicion in India that pitches will be rolled out to play to the home side’s strengths, as the Australians found during their Test tour nine months ago.

But, as well-travelled cricketers, they insist they will take it all in their stride.

“I guess we’ll find out when we get to Ahmedabad and see if it’s a fresh wicket or an old wicket,” said Mitchell Starc, who played a major role with ball and bat in helping Australia to a tense three-wicket semi-final victory over South Africa in Kolkata on Thursday.

Josh Hazlewood, his equally damaging new-ball partner, was more philosophical.

Josh Hazlewood is adamant Australia will be ready for anything in Sunday’s final.Credit: AP

“It’s always expect the unexpected in India,” Hazlewood said. “We’re not surprised by anything here. Everyone in this team has been coming here for a long time through the IPL, through different series.

“When we get there [Ahmedabad], we’ll see it [the pitch] and make a decision on what we do first. Whatever it is, we have to do it well.”

Pitch speculation can often be like predicting the weather, with the cyclone forming on the Bay of Bengal not arriving, as feared, to wash out Australia’s semi-final.

Likewise, the allegations India had their semi-final pitch in Mumbai changed to a used wicket because it favoured spinners came to nothing, with more than 700 runs scored in the home side’s victory over New Zealand.

Mitchell Starc and captain Pat Cummins were at the crease when Australia booked their place in the decider.Credit: AP

The opposite was true in Kolkata, where a pitch that hardly rated a mention in pre-match media discussions turned out to be one of the most challenging of the tournament.

South Africa chose to bat, as has been their successful modus operandi all tournament, only to find the pitch had sweated under the covers waiting for the non-appearing cyclone, aiding exceptional opening spells from Starc and Hazlewood.

Then the used, worn and weary surface took ever greater amounts of turn, which Hazlewood believes will be the ideal preparation for Australia’s batsmen before they face India’s spinners on Sunday.

“I think it was good in particular for probably the batters from [number] four down to seven or eight to have a hit on a wicket like that against quality spinners,” he said.

Australia’s opponents on Sunday have three of the top eight bowlers at this World Cup.Credit: AP

“It’s certainly great practice. You can’t really replicate that in training. So it’s good to have a left-arm wrist spinner as well as a left-arm off-spinner, so it mirrors that next game. I’m sure the boys will be talking about a few plans over the next few days.”

The like-for-like was uncanny, with South Africa’s left-arm orthodox spinner Keshav Maharaj, now ranked the leading one-day bowler in the world, a carbon copy of India’s Ravi Jadeja, and left-arm twirler Tabraiz Shamsi playing the same role as India’s Kuldeep Yadav, the world’s fifth-ranked one-day bowler.

India have three players in the top five one-day rankings, with opening bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj making the list, while Mohammed Shami is set to charge up the ladder from 12th place after his seven-wicket haul in Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand. Shami is now the leading wicket-taker in the World Cup with 23, one more than Adam Zampa, who went wicketless against South Africa.

Zampa is currently third in the one-day bowling rankings, thanks in large part to his good form in this tournament, while Hazlewood is ranked sixth.

Equally imposing is the fact that India have three batsmen in the top five of the one-day rankings, with Shubman Gill on top, Virat Kohli at number four and captain Rohit Sharma fifth. Australia’s only top-10 batsman is seventh-placed David Warner.

Kohli is also the runaway leader as the top run-scorer in the World Cup, with 711 at an average of 102, including three centuries. Rohit is fifth while Warner is sixth.

And, of course, India have three of the eight leading wicket-takers in this World Cup, led by Shami, whereas Australia have Zampa.

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