Long after the crowds have left the stadium after a World Cup final, the Australia team members will walk out of their dressing room and make their way to the centre. Once there, there are a few chants, a few cheers, a few speeches. Players getting stuff off their chest, exhaling, letting the others know exactly how they are feeling in the moment; in that moment of triumph.
It is their ritual — one they stick to almost without fail. The fans aren’t around to witness this moment but journalists, still finishing their last reports, have seen them do it quite often. Quite often because few teams in world cricket win like Australia or as much as them.
They won their first ODI World Cup in 1987 (India) and followed it up with titles in 1999 (England), 2003 (South Africa), 2007 (West Indies), 2015 (Australia) and now, 2023 (India again). This is a team that wins around the world and they do it by, as Steve Smith said on Sunday night, “Australia typically plays well in those (big) moments.”
The 2023 men’s Cricket World Cup is the first edition of the tournament to not be won by a host nation since 2007. The conditions, one might argue, weren’t the kind that Australia usually relish. But on a slow wicket, they found a way, as they almost always do.
Seizing the moment
Everybody knew. When Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc stitched together a gritty partnership to help Australia win their semi-final against South Africa on another sluggish surface, everyone knew the final would not be a cakewalk for India.
India were on a winning streak — the kind that has enthralled a nation. But Australia are Australia. They know how to wake up on the right side of the bed on a big day. And in Ahmedabad, you could see that right from the start.
They took the gamble of chasing in a final when conventional wisdom suggests the comfort of putting runs on the board. The pressure of chasing can be intimidating, apparently. But Australia didn’t care about any of that. They backed that decision by fielding and bowling with the desperation that usually accompanies challengers and not serial winners.
If there is one moment which described that quality best it was the manner in which Travis Head, in the 10th over of the day, ran back from cover, dived and held on to a catch with the ball coming over his shoulder. It ended Rohit Sharma’s knock of 47 off 31 balls and gave a huge boost to Australia. It was a moment and Australia won.
“I think we saved our best for the last, some big match players stood up,” said Cummins. “We were desperate. It all started last week against South Africa.”
He added: “You just can’t just wait. Gotta be brave at times and take the game on. And there was a total buy-in by the squad.”
A poor start
The tournament, though, seemed to be anything but easy to begin with. Two straight losses to begin with had people questioning the quality of the squad. But they fought back, building, getting better and finally out-batting, out-bowling and out-fielding India in the final.
So much could have gone wrong. Their only specialist spinner Adam Zampa was unwell to begin the tournament and he also had a swimming pool accident. But he recovered and so did Australia.
Head had to wait for a fracture to heal before he could play his first game of the tournament. When he did get a chance against New Zealand, he announced his arrival with a century. The performance in the final is the cherry on top.
As pacer Josh Hazlewood said, “We were basically knocking on wood the whole tournament.”
Some might argue that they didn’t need to worry. Before making it to Ahmedabad, they had already reached seven finals and won five of them. They find a way and some courage when they need it.
Made this way?
Many prefer to say that this is part of their winning DNA but it is their mentality that truly sets them apart. To step up on the big stage and feel no fear is a special quality and the great teams always possess it. This seems to come naturally to Australia.
“A lot of times, teams overplay not the importance of a big game but the big moment in knockout games,” said former Australia skipper Aaron Finch to ESPNCricinfo just ahead of the semi-final. “The strength of Australia over the years has been to simplify the game plan, the mentality and what you need to do as an individual.”
He added: “So often you think about the opposition, who will bat, who will bowl and it preoccupies your mind and uses up a lot of mental energy. I think one of the abilities is to calm everything down and focus on the basics. If something happens on the day and someone plays a blinder, you can live with that. It is okay to be beaten. The last thing you want to do is beat yourself. Individual performances come on the back of that because your mind is so clear.”
No one will suggest this is easy but in a year in which they have become World Test champions, retained the Ashes and won the ODI World Cup, one can surely say Australia have nailed it.