In an air-conditioned room packed with press personnel in Chennai on October 7, Rohit Sharma was asked about “unfinished business”. Calm and laidback in these settings, the India skipper would respond by invoking Sachin Tendulkar’s quest to win the 2011 ODI World Cup and say he’s chasing a similar goal. “Yeah, it will be nice to win a World Cup. It’s the biggest prize that you can have in your career,” he said. “But there’s a way to do it. There’s a procedure that you need to follow. There’s a process to it.”
That process has been followed to perfection, with ten commanding victories and many memorable performances shaping a hitherto flawless campaign.
In another air-conditioned room on Saturday, this time in Ahmedabad and with a larger audience hanging onto his every word, Sharma was reminded about “unfinished business”.
And he repeated what he had said six weeks ago. “Yeah, it’ll be nice to win the World Cup. In the same tone, I want to say it now again, the same thing.”
Like then, Australia, five-time champions in this format, are India’s opponents. But if Sharma’s statement in Chennai came at the start of the World Cup, the difference now is that his reiteration comes ahead of the final in Ahmedabad on Sunday. India are now just one step away, and the promise of reaching hallowed territory, alongside the Indian teams of 1983 and 2011, stares them in the eye.
“It’ll be nice to do it because we’ve worked really hard for it,” Sharma said. “But again, we don’t want to get too excited about it, or you don’t want to feel too much pressure about it. A nice, balanced atmosphere at this stage will be really nice. And it’s just not from me. I can sense that from every other player as well in the changing room that you know there’s a laugh going around, there’s a bit of tense faces as well. I’m not going to hide that but that’s normal. That is why this sport is so exciting because you see all different kinds of emotions. But obviously when it’s game time, guys are very well aware of what needs to be done now.”
To get to this position has been around two years in the making for India, with meticulous planning, role clarity and backing the right players all going into this run. “Since I became the captain two years ago, we have prepared for this day. So, for all three formats, we had to prepare, identify players, which players could be the right ones for which format. We did this process; it was a two-and-a-half-year process. I think till now, the role clarity has played an important role in reaching this far,” he said.
But in their path is an Australian outfit with the ammunition to spoil India’s grand party. As Australian skipper Pat Cummins reminded everyone on Saturday, they may have had India 20/4 in a chase of 200 in the opening game had Mitchell Marsh held onto Virat Kohli’s catch. Also aware that 1,32,000 spectators will be straining their vocal cords and wanting the Australians to fail, Cummins wants his players to embrace the atmosphere.
“The crowd’s obviously going to be very one-sided, but also in sport there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent and that’s the aim for us tomorrow,” the Australian pacer said. “You have got to be up for it, and just know whatever happens it’s fine but you just want to finish the day with no regrets.”
The large gathering of Indian fans should work in the hosts’ favour, but it can also heighten the pressure of a high-stakes game that comes all of once in four years. Only Virat Kohli among the current Indian players knows what it is like to play an ODI World Cup final. Australia, on the other hand, have five players who were part of the 2015 final.
“No, look, in my opinion, that can’t be such an advantage. They have the experience of playing the final. But I think when you play such a tournament, and we’re talking about eight years later, I think the players’ current form, current state of mind, is more important than that,” Sharma said.
If India get past the final hurdle, their dominance will be akin to the run that the Aussies enjoyed in 2003 and 2007 when they won without losing a game. But Sharma didn’t want to get drawn into those comparisons. “No, look, I don’t believe in that aura and all that. I don’t believe in what we did in the last 10 matches. Of course, it’s important to have confidence in such matches. We played 10 matches well. But again, if you make mistakes tomorrow, then whatever good work you did in those 10 matches, it’s a chance to get wasted. The mantra we have followed is this only.”
When teams reach this stage, tinkering with the combination is usually rare. In India’s case, they’ve had a settled unit do the job in recent matches. But Sharma was still asked about the prospect of ace offie R Ashwin, who played against Australia in the opening game, coming in for what would be just the second game of his campaign. “We haven’t taken any decision yet. I want all the boys to be available and then we will decide who to play,” Sharma said, understandably offering little by way of clues.
One thing can be said with some certainty though — that all the players who stride onto the expanse of lush green on Sunday will be playing one of the most important one-day games of their lives.