Perhaps, because they are just too good
When the Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke wrote ‘no feelings are final’, he must not have considered the perennial feeling of cricket fans across the world sinking in eternal despair, after their team gets upstaged by Australia in the ODI World Cup finals. There have been 13 ODI World Cups so far, and Australia have emerged triumphant in six of them. And, the sixth that happened in Ahmedabad was perhaps the most staggering, the most confounding, yet the most predictable outcome you could conjure.
If you were asked to name one team that could stop the awe-inspiring juggernaut of Indian cricket, Australia would have been the first name for the most. That the statement is made in retrospect doesn’t really devalue its legitimacy. It’s a muscle memory, borne out of years of trauma they have inflicted on their adversaries. The scars of the 2003 World Cup final are still engraved on the sleeves of Indian cricket fans, and they have added another now.
What makes the defeat in Ahmedabad more agonising, more long-lasting than the one they suffered in Johannesburg twenty years ago is the sheer dominance, the shade of invincibility that the Indian team under Rohit Sharma exuded leading up to the final. They were 10-0 going into the World Cup, and it’s not just about the unbeaten streak but the manner in which they outclassed every opponent. Only once did this team look seriously under the pump, in the opening clash against Australia when they lost three wickets in no time, and even then the team found a way to overcome the Australian challenge. The rest of the campaign was almost flawless; then the final happened.
Buoyed by Head’s stellar century and a brilliant rearguard effort from Marnus Labuschagne, Australia crushed the Indian hopes, step by step. As the defeat for the hosts became almost certain, the giant wave of blue at the gigantic stadium gave way to bright reddish-orange vacant seats. Of course, for people who came with full certainty that it was their time to shine and for broadcasters who never acknowledged the presence of another team, Pat Cummins and Co. made them eat a humble pie.
The primary emotion in the aftermath of a soul-crushing loss is shock. Yet there’s a sense of inevitability that has slowly given way to the initial shock. A sense of inevitability that is synonymous with Australian cricket, of their remarkable ability to turn up the lights and heat when they are thrown to the greatest stage. At this point, you shouldn’t be declared a maniac if you bet on the bunch of Aussie cricketers to come triumphant, even if you throw them in an ocean full of deadly creatures. Just tell them it’s a World Cup final and watch the ensuing battle: Travis Head skillfully slicing up the venomous puffer fish with a string slice of his willow; Mitchell Starc outrunning the Jesus on the water and delivering a pin-point yorker to blind the great white shark as they make their final leap; Marnus Labuschagne blunting the razor-sharp teeth of Barracudas; Mitchell Marsh using his bison-like biceps to lift the giant whale, rotate in the sky and launching it straight to the faraway desert. And they’ll do it in style!
It’s borderline bizarre how they find a way to win these games, even at times when they are not at the peak of their fluency. A simple and most legitimate explanation is they are pretty good at what they do, and they just do the basics right, the basics that other teams mess up because of pressure, expectations, and other intangibles. But there’s a reason why many don’t buy this explanation. It’s perhaps too simplistic to explain the absurd dominance of the canary yellow, and different shades of it, and perhaps that’s the reason many of us go to the mythic comforts like Ricky Ponting played with a spring in his bat in 2003. There are no such myths associated with Travis Head’s scintillating century yet, but you shouldn’t be surprised if you come across some. Must be something in his bushy stache, some kind of repellent properties that kept the ball away from his body and stumps. After all, how else do you explain the freakish knock played by a man, who was nursing a fractured hand just three weeks ago and wasn’t even sure if he’d get to play this World Cup? No wonder myths are so seductive, although most are plain bullshit served in a glass of ancient wisdom, at times they help us make sense of the world and the chaos.
For instance, the concept of ‘Australianism’, as expressed by the veteran cricket writer John Arlott in 1949. ‘Australianism’, for Arlott, was a “single-minded determination to win – to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them.” It’s a sort of generalisation that doesn’t really explain much about why Australia is the powerhouse, yet it remains enduring in its striking relevance because of its simplicity, perhaps. One of the defining traits of Arlott’s ‘Australianism’ is that Australia never loses until the last run is scored or the last wicket is down. Well, this you could say about any team that has ever played cricket. Yet, it fits so aptly with this Australian team, which has now won the World Test Championship final, retained the Ashes in England, and lastly an ODI World Cup title – all in a space of few months.
And you just can’t help the begrudgingly revel in the superiority of this team. You look at them with covetous eyes and think: Will I see my team ever playing like these guys? Maybe someday. Or maybe not.