The ICC World Cup 2023 concluded with Australia annihilating the home team India at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday, November 19. Despite having a dream run of winning 10 consecutive matches convincingly the Indian team looked a pale shadow of themselves in the match that mattered the most.

The concerns began for India with the toss of the coin. The venue had seen the formation of dew the evening before and so it was expected that it would come into the picture once again, disadvantaging the team bowling second. With Australia winning the toss and putting India in to bat, it was clear to Rohit & Co. that they needed to put in a big score, like they were doing in the tournament till then, to have a buffer against the possible dew formation when they come on to bowl. As a result, there was pressure on the batters already.

On top of that, the pitch was a slow one and not the one on which one could bat freely throughout the innings. The ball did not come on to the bat like the Indian batters were used to and, very importantly, it favoured the spinners greatly. Initially, when the ball was new batting was relatively easier, with the powerplay on, there was more scope to take risks and score runs freely. The Rohit Sharma-Virat Kohli partnership proved that and they did exactly the same, scoring 46 runs off 32 balls for the second wicket.

However, Rohit Sharma went for one shot too many against Glenn Maxwell after hitting him for a six and a four off the previous two deliveries respectively. Rohit was not in full control of the six that he hit earlier in the over. The ball was spinning quite a bit already and so the situation required some degree of caution from him at that stage. But Rohit, who had been playing the way he was, attempted to dominate the bowler further by going for another boundary. 

Unfortunately for him, he could not get to the pitch of the ball completely and miscued it to the cover region where Travis Head, who had already been outstanding in the field by that stage, took a catch for the ages. When you now look back at the Indian innings, this seems to be the moment that shifted the momentum towards Australia.

With Iyer following Rohit to the pavilion soon after and the score reading 81/3 in 10.2 overs, Kohli and Rahul had to rightly consolidate to avoid a possible collapse. The platform set by Rohit provided them the luxury to bide some time and play risk-free cricket for a while, but that played into the hands of the Australian bowlers who went unchallenged in that phase and so dominated the proceedings.

The innings started to go downhill further as time went on. Despite the difficulties posed by the wicket and the Australian bowlers and fielders, the batters needed to take some risks. The fact that they did not score a boundary for 97 balls goes to show how conservative they were in their approach. India were caught in a situation in which they were required to score a lot of runs but needed to save wickets as well.

Add to that the pressure of a final at home in front of 92,453 spectators; it appeared that the fear of failure had consumed the Indian batters. Against a top-quality bowling attack which read the pitch very well and executed its plans with aplomb, being fearful or conservative for a long period of time was a recipe for disaster. Once the Australian bowlers had figured out what they needed to do on that pitch, it was an uphill task for even KL Rahul and also the batters who came after Kohli got out.

When the Indian team came out to defend a massively under-par target of 241, it needed to bowl and field the way it had been doing in the tournament thus far. The very first delivery from Bumrah created a chance at first slip where Kohli was caught napping. It was a start that India just could not afford. 

Later on, there were quite a few fielding lapses seen with even Rahul finding it difficult to save runs behind the wicket. Moreover, Mohammed Shami, the star bowler for India and the highest wicket-taker in the tournament, was unlike him, bowling down the leg side way too many times. It was clear that even he felt the pressure and was not able to bowl the way he was used to, trying desperately to conjure up a wicket. All in all, just too many easy runs were conceded in that early phase.

Last but not the least, it would be unfair to not give the Australian team the credit they deserve for also forcing India to play the way they did. A team that lost its first two matches and found itself at the bottom of the table was not given a chance by many to make it to the knockouts. Soon, it found its mojo and did not look back afterwards. In the final, the team looked calm, composed and focused on the goal.

The fielding was outstanding almost throughout the match, especially Travis Head who saved valuable runs and almost took a catch in the deep in the initial period. The bowling was spot on, barring a few hiccups, and successfully tamed the Indian batters in their own cauldron. The batters, knowing what they wanted to achieve, played sensibly. The mix of attack and defence was balanced when the ball was doing quite a bit in the first 15 or so overs. Overall, it was a near-perfect performance, the one they would be truly proud of.

India lost the least number of matches (one) in the tournament, but the only one they lost was the one they should not have. Despite topping the table in both the 2019 and 2023 ODI World Cup editions and losing in the knockouts, they very well know now that the latter is a completely different cup of tea. Add to that the innumerable losses in semis and finals over the last decade in ICC events, it is high time the Indian team management cracked this mystery.

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