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How Australia silenced 90,000 voices

They came with great expectations in Ahmedabad, but many left before the last ball was bowled

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Twenty minutes past eight on the night of their dreams.
Scores of fans begin to move towards the exits of the Narendra Modi Stadium. The all-encompassing blue of tens of thousands of India jerseys dissipate to reveal bright orange seats beneath. The World Cup final is not yet over but many have had enough.
Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne had raised their century stand. India's defence of 240, which looked so promising when Australia were 47 for 3, was failing. The pitch they had hoped would aid the spin of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav was getting better to bat on as the night progressed. The day before the game, Australia's captain Pat Cummins had spoken of there being no greater satisfaction than silencing a huge crowd. And 11 Australians did just that to more than 90,000 in Ahmedabad.
The day had begun very differently. First a hush when Cummins won the toss. Then a roar when he put India in to bat. Those roars grew louder as Rohit Sharma began to do his thing. Where the stadium DJ had failed to rouse the crowd into a Mexican wave, Rohit got them going with a towering six off Glenn Maxwell. The footwork, backswing, timing, and the nonchalance as he turned his back on the ball after following its trajectory - all stunning and typical of Rohit.
The roar was louder next ball as Rohit flayed Maxwell through the covers. He was staying true to the "brand vaand" he'd beautifully elaborated on the previous evening. He was walking the aggressive talk like he'd done all through this World Cup. Two successive boundaries, however, weren't enough for Rohit. He charged Maxwell and tried to go big again to make the most of the fielding restrictions.
Most watching wouldn't have thought it possible for Head to latch on to the miscued shot that quickly - turn around from cover, sprint a considerable distance, and dive full length to take a game-changing catch. For two previous balls, there had been bedlam in Ahmedabad. Now silence. As Head picked himself off the ground and began to celebrate before being mobbed by ecstatic team-mates, the parallel with Kapil Dev's iconic catch off Viv Richards in the 1983 World Cup final was impossible to miss. Rohit threw his head up and walked off for 47 off 31 balls.
Four balls later, more silence, as Cummins found the outside edge to have Shreyas Iyer, who had scored hundreds in his two previous innings, caught behind. Left hand up, finger pointing skywards, Cummins took off on a celebratory run, the cheers of the Australians cutting through the silence.
At 81 for 3 in the 11th over, India's batting depth was facing its toughest test of the tournament and it was on Virat Kohli to lead the repair job. He'd scored three successive boundaries off Mitchell Starc in the seventh over to kickstart his innings, but once those two wickets fell, risks had to be reduced. So Kohli knuckled down. He ran the hard runs and defended like his life depended on it. The man with the most hundreds in ODIs, the man with the most runs in a World Cup, was now playing one of the most important innings of his life.
Kohli and KL Rahul rebuilt the innings slowly. India didn't score a boundary for over 15 overs after the powerplay. Two batters at the peak of their powers curbing their instincts for the team's cause. As Kohli raised his ninth 50-plus score of the World Cup off 56 balls, the crowd found its voice again. Seven balls later, he chopped Cummins on.
Kohli was stunned. Couldn't bear to look back. And it took a while for him to leave the crease. He glared at his bat as an overjoyed Cummins took off on another celebratory sprint, having made good on his pre-match promise a second time. Rahul also fell after his half-century and the mood at the stadium remained sombre for the rest of India's innings.
There was renewed hope after the innings break, though, as India began their defence of 240 with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami zipping the ball past the flailing bats of the Australian openers. The crowd began to find its voice as an edge went between first and second slip, and then raised the roof when the next edge - off Warner - was held by Kohli in the cordon.
Bumrah grazed the under edge of Mitchell Marsh's attempted smash, and then pinned Steven Smith lbw, but little did any of the Indian fans at the ground know then that there would be no more cause for joy for them.
By the time Head was caught for a World Cup-winning 137 off 120 balls after a partnership of 192 with Labuschagne, with Australia needing only two runs to win, the final had wound down to its conclusion in eerie silence for a stadium that held nearly a 100,000 fans.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo