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ICC World Cup 2023 analysis: Australia fought from the trenches to win the war

India may have been the favourites with an all-win record in the league phase but Cummins & Co were the most battle-hardened unit

The more you look at Australia’s run in the just concluded Cricket World Cup 2023, the more you are left admiring their tenacity and grit. It is amazing how they picked themselves up after their campaign had hit rock bottom, 10 days into the tournament.

After their first two matches, they were placed last in the 10-team table with lesser-fancied teams like the Netherlands and Afghanistan above them. The situation was so bad that murmurs of Pat Cummins being replaced as captain did the rounds back home. But they got their act together in their third match against Sri Lanka and thereafter rose like a Phoenix, to eventually fly away with the crown.

It wasn’t an easy passage though. In the six league matches that followed their first win, the Aussies were stretched to the limit three times, against New Zealand, England and Afghanistan with two of them being the most thrilling matches of the tournament. Or in other words the most nerve-wracking matches in the 48-match event.

Maxwell and Rashid

India may have been the favourites with an all-win record in the league phase but Australia were the most battle-hardened team among the semi-finalists. They had suffered losses, come through the wringer in three games and were also riding high on the confidence of having won seven matches on the trot. Then they went on to complete the title run by extracting sweet revenge against South Africa and India, to whom they had lost their first two games.

The Australian success story was also driven by two acts of brilliance in the field. The first came during their third match against Sri Lanka, when another defeat loomed large with the Islanders notching 125 for no loss by the 22nd over. But that was when their oldest member, lit a fire within the team. David Warner took an excellent catch, covering a lot of ground at deep midwicket, to dismiss opener Pathum Nissanka (61) off Pat Cummins. The 37-year-old Warner did an encore to send back the Sri Lanka captain Kusal Mendis (9), off leg-spinner Adam Zampa. Soon, the Aussies were all over the Sri Lankans, who were bowled out for 209, losing 10 wickets for 84 runs. They then wrapped up the game in the 36th over losing just five wickets. The ruthless demolition that they carried out for this win, their first in the tournament, was also a clear warning to all other teams about their potential.

Adam Zampa

The significance of Warner’s catches were huge because the Aussies were spilling more than they were catching. Against India, Mitchell Marsh dropped an easy catch to give a reprieve to Virat Kohli and the star batter made them pay heavily with a match-winning knock. The Men in Yellow were at their worst in the next game against South Africa, dropping five. Even against Sri Lanka they had failed to cling on to two chances before Warner ended their moments of despair with a brilliant take.

Warner then did what he does best as an opener, score big and soon Australia’s campaign was on track. His scores in Australia’s next three matches were: 163 against Pakistan, 104 against Netherlands and 81 against New Zealand. It resulted in Australia created a new record in one-day internationals by becoming the first team to rake up three successive totals of 350 plus: 367-9 in 50 overs against Pakistan, 399-8 in 50 overs against Netherlands and 388 all out in 49.2 overs against New Zealand.

Travis Head

The second catch that turned Australia’s fortunes was by Travis Head in the final. It ended the stay of Indian captain Rohit Sharma, who was threatening to snatch the game away from the Aussies. Head’s tumbling catch running backwards made a big impact on the match as it lifted the Aussies spirits and they fielded with a tigerish zeal throughout the Indian innings.

In between Warner and Head’s catches were eight matches which also featured some incredible individual performances: Glenn Maxwell’s sensational 201 not out to lift Australia from the dead against Afghanistan, Mitchell Marsh’s blazing 177 against Bangladesh and Cummins dismissal of New Zealand’s new-found hero Rachin Ravindra, who was running away with the game. Ravindra’s fall took the sting out of New Zealand’s brave chase of 389 and they eventually fell short by five runs.

Finally, in the last act at Ahmedabad, the Aussies displayed better planning and executed it to the hilt. It was based on sound knowledge of the conditions, as Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin revealed in his Youtube channel.

Ravi ashwin

“In the final – I don’t know how many people explained it on TV – Cummins bowled to a four-five leg-side field like an off-spinner. It was the first time I saw a fast bowler bowl to an off-spinner’s field without a mid-off in a one-day game. High on tactical brilliance and tactical execution.”

Ashwin went on add another interesting conversation he had with former Australian captain and current chief selector George Bailey. “I asked him why didn’t you guys bat first like you always do – he replied saying, ‘we have played IPL and bilateral series here a lot — red soil disintegrates but not black soil and it gets better under lights. There is no impact on dew on red soil but black soil has good turn in afternoon and then it will be a concrete in night,” he said.

Warner seconded Bailey’s views in an interview with South African legend AB de Villiers, where the left-handed opener said the decision to bat first if they won the toss was made clear to the team in the night before the final.

Travis head and Marnus Labuschagne

In spite of all this, the Aussies still found themselves in a spot of bother while chasing 241 when they were reduced to 47-3 before they were rescued by two batters, who were not sure whether they would be playing this World Cup – Head and Marnus Labuschagne.

Head had fractured his left hand while facing South African fast bowler three weeks before the World Cup during a one-day international in Centurion Park while Labuschagne was included in the squad after spinner Ashton Agar was ruled out of the tournament with a calf injury. The Australian selectors took a brave call to retain Head despite the injury, allowing him to recover even though it meant the left-handed batter missing the first half of their campaign. Labuschagne’s selection was also an interesting one as the selectors decided to replace a spinner with a batter but it was a forced change because the South African-born batter had smashed 421 runs from 8 one-day internationals at an average of 60.14 since he was excluded from the original squad of 15.

India may have been the toast of the tournament but Australia had a better script.