'Runs on the board': India captain Rohit Sharma (centre) with his Australia counterpart Pat Cummins at the toss
Ahmedabad (India) (AFP) - India carried the hopes of billions of fans in the cricket crazy country and beyond as the unbeaten hosts headed into Sunday’s World Cup final against Australia in Ahmedabad.
“All the best Team India!, wrote India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is attending the showpiece match at the 130,000 capacity stadium named after him in the western Indian city, on X, formerly Twitter.
“140 crore (1.4 billion) Indians are cheering for you. May you shine bright, play well and uphold the spirit of sportsmanship.”
Both teams were unchanged, with Australia captain Pat Cummins electing to bowl first on a dry pitch.
India skipper Rohit Sharma, an opener in a powerful top-order, had no complaints, saying he would have batted first.
“It’s a big occasion and we would like to put a big total on the board,” Rohit said.
Soon after the coin toss, the crowd were treated to a pre-match fly-past by the Indian Air Force.
Choreographed dancing display and light shows during the innings breaks are also expected during the game.
Everything promises to be on a suitably grand scale given India is cricket economic powerhouse
But the match itself could well live up to the occasion.
Unbeaten hosts India have won 10 games in a row on their way to the finish of the tournament as they seek a third World Cup title to follow their stunning victory over the West Indies in a 1983 final at Lord’s and a 2011 home triumph sealed with a defeat of Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
Virat Kohli goes into the game as the tournament’s leading batsman with 711 runs and having set a new record of 50 ODI hundreds in a 70-run semi-final win over New Zealand in Mumbai.
That innings saw the star batsman break the mark of 49 ODI centuries he had shared with retired India great Sachin Tendulkar – a childhood hero of Kohli before the duo both featured in India’s victorious 2011 side.
Mohammed Shami, meanwhile, tops the tournament bowling charts with 23 wickets at just 9.13 apiece, despite being left out of the side for the first four games before an injury to Hardik Pandya paved the way for the paceman’s dramatic return.
- ‘So much pressure’ -
'Big occasion': The Indian Air Force (IAF) Surya Kiran aerobatics team performs before the start of the final
Yet for all India’s unrivalled financial muscle and wealth of playing talent, it is 10 years since they last won a major international tournament – the 2013 Champions Trophy.
Doubts still linger about whether a talented India team can stand up the strains of a final against a hardened Australia side full of proven big-match performers.
But Rohit insisted Saturday: “Not many have played the finals, but like I said, playing for India is as good as playing any World Cup game because there’s so much pressure. There’s so much expectation.”
He added: “Always at the airport, you’re going here and there (hearing) ‘you have to win the World Cup, you have to score runs, you have to score 200, you have to take five wickets’.”
Fans had travelled from all across the country with Vijay Kumar, a supporter from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, telling AFP: “Everyone here shares the same hope and nervous excitement.”
Australia are bidding for a record-extending sixth World Cup title, with Sunday’s game their eighth appearance in the final.
Their team includes several survivors from a 2015 World Cup final win over New Zealand in Melbourne, including opener David Warner, star batsman Steve Smith, all-rounder Glenn Maxwell and new-ball bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
“The good thing is we’ve got guys that won it in 2015,” Cummins, who was a squad member in 2015 as was teammate Mitchell Marsh, said Saturday.
“We know that feeling and won’t be afraid to go out there and be brave and take the game on.”
Australia lost their opening two matches of the tournament, going down by six wickets against India and then suffering a huge 134-run defeat by South Africa.
But they have since won eight games in a row and, worryingly for India, had their revenge over South Africa with a tense three wicket-win in a Kolkata semi-final where Cummins kept his cool in a nervy run-chase.
“We’ve had to fight for every win, but we’ve found a way to win,” added fast bowler Cummins.