Decisions. Make the right ones and you’re a visionary. Make the wrong ones and you’re an idiot, a spendthrift, a waste of space, any of the infinite list of insults. The judgments will be made in hindsight, naturally, but you – you should have known better.
So when Pat Cummins called correctly at the toss, Australian supporters would have celebrated. And when he chose to bowl a few seconds later, a large proportion of them would surely have thought he was mad. Perhaps he had lost his grip. Perhaps he had overthought it.
But what was the thought? Take India at home, with all of the advantages that confers, with all of the power packed into the top order by Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli each playing the World Cup of his life, and offer them first use of a home pitch?
Ask them to get their home crowd purring as they rack up a score, celebrate milestones, then put you under pressure with their fast bowlers starting under lights – you a team whose past three successful chases involved a Glenn Maxwell miracle, a demoralised Bangladesh, and a crawl to a small total against South Africa?
Perhaps we were all right. Perhaps it was not the percentage play. Perhaps Australia batting first would have made 300 and defended it comfortably. But Cummins ended up being right, because he led his team in making it work.
Mitchell Starc’s early wicket of Shubman Gill was handy, but also the one that didn’t matter. It just brought together the old firm, Sharma and Kohli. Sharma’s thing is hitting the ball out of the ground. Kohli thought that looked pretty good and reeled off a series of fours. But then another decision, Maxwell’s off-spin being backed in the powerplay as it has been through the tournament, belted for four and six, then doing the major piece of damage by drawing Sharma’s false shot attempting another.
Then it was Cummins twice, first getting Shreyas Iyer to make Kohli and KL Rahul cautious enough to shut up shop, then returning in the 29th over to make Kohli play on to his stumps for a fifty denied the chance to flourish into yet another hundred. Kohli had the record for most runs in a single World Cup, but his tally still ended too early. Cummins mixed his bowlers to fine effect, Josh Inglis took a record five catches in a World Cup final, and India were hard held to 240.
And yes, that should still have been difficult. India had 20 overs of spin to bowl and a rough slow surface on which to bowl it. Ravindra Jadeja has had a hold over Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, Kuldeep Yadav bowls left-arm wrist spinners of the sort that have troubled Maxwell. Australia needed bulk runs quickly from their top three, and lost David Warner and Mitchell Marsh soon despite a frenetic run rate.
But it’s all about decisions. The most key of those, the crossroads for so many reasons, came when the squad was chosen. Travis Head was picked despite the broken hand that forced him to miss half the tournament. That meant that Ashton Agar was not picked with a calf problem that might also have healed. Carrying one injury was the limit. And with the all-rounder Agar gone, Labuschagne was picked in that last spot instead.
Of course, they were the pair that took Australia home. Long before that, it was Head whose hand had healed well enough to take the brilliant running catch going backwards to dismiss Sharma, an effort that was even better live than it looked on the television screen.
When Smith fell lbw, it was three down, 47 on the board. The surging energy in the stadium said this game was India’s. This tournament, this title, this world. More than 92,000 people roared for it. If you were standing outside among the crowd, you could feel your sternum vibrating with the sound. It was, in the literal rather than the overused sense of the word, unbelievable.
But there was one snag. Travis Head is impossible. He plays impossible innings, does impossible things. Labuschagne poured a base of concrete. Head used it to build a monument. At one point he had 10 from 23 balls, a scoreline most unlike him. Then he took a breath, chewed his gum, and began again. Took on Mohammed Shami, India’s bowler of the tournament, dabbing four and driving another. Then Yadav, the slog sweep for six when it was still supposedly India’s game.
So they built on: Head surging to a hundred, just as he did to beat India in the World Test Championship final; Labuschagne in support, the most accidental of accidental heroes, the man who wasn’t in the warm-up squad, then wasn’t in the tournament squad, then definitely wasn’t in the first XI, but ended up being in all three.
As they continued, as the runs remaining ticked down from difficult to possible to probable to a formality, the sound around that massive stadium faded from skeleton shake all the way down to a weekday afternoon at a county ground, far too many people to produce so quiet a murmur. By the time Australia had won, half of them had gone. A shame – they missed seeing the most unlikely World Cup win.