Pat on the back: Captain Cummins responds to call of duty on big day
Australia was wobbling on 47-3 after seven overs but Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne dug in to help their country regain its status as the king of one-day international cricket.
AHMEDABAD: Death, taxes and Australian cricketing figureheads standing up in big finals. Even though they lost in 1975, both Gary Gilmour (5/48) and Ian Chappel (62) had played well. In 1987, David Boon was Man of the Match. Shane Warne (1999), Ricky Ponting (2003), Adam Gilchrist (2007) and Mitchell Starc (2015) had followed in that same path.
Just as the floodlights began to take full effect at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Sunday, another Australian figurehead walked that same path. Pat Cummins.
In the process, the skipper, who was belatedly given the role of leading their white-ball programme after Aaron Finch retired last October, has capped off a rather remarkable year with another feather in a cap full of them. What would take captains a lifetime to achieve, he has ticked them all in a few months. Retaining the Ashes in England. Winning the World Test Championship. And, now, winning the World Cup.
In February, the seamer cut short an India Test series to be bedside as his mother was receiving end-stage care. She had been battling illness for a long time. After a few weeks, she lost her battle. "It’s still pretty raw at the moment but the last few months I’ve been lucky enough to spend loads of time with mum,” he had revealed in a We Are 8's Get Real With Rio podcast in May. "But us kids and dad just sharing all those memories I think it really hits home the type of person you want to be, the type of father you want to be. So from that side, it's been quite good. Lots of memories. But in terms of the grief, I guess we'll keep working through that."
Since then, it's been a life on the road for the bowling all-rounder. The WTC and The Ashes were big tick marks but how would he cope with the challenge of leading Australia in a 50-over World Cup? For starters, it was like learning a new language for him. Till a tune-up series against India just before the World Cup, he had captained in only two ODIs.
Two matches in, they were on the verge of being asked to leave the party they had come to dominate in their sleep. At a personal level, Cummins himself needed a big spell.
When Sri Lanka were 125 without loss after a 21-and-a-bit overs, Cummins, who had brought himself on for another spell, was throwing a dice. At that point, he had already entertained thoughts of going back home as he had revealed in the pre-match press conference before the final. That's how he was feeling when he was bowling to Pathum Nissanka
The dice landed in his favour. Nissanka fell off his bowling thanks to David Warner's fine, tumbling catch in the outfield. A few overs later, Cummins breached through Kusal Perera's loose defence. Australia had an inch. They took a shotgun to blow it open.
Since then, they have let muscle memory do its thing. Without ever looking like some of the big, bad Australian teams of the past, they moved through the gears. From being a backmarker after the first two games, they took their spot in the final. Like an expert endurance racer, they dropped to the back of the field before picking off competitors one by one. New Zealand (Dharamsala)? Sorry, lads, but see you later. Pakistan (Bengaluru)? Not today. England (Ahmedabad)? LOL, time to claim a moral victory. Afghanistan? Well played for keeping up. South Africa? Don't even go there.
Throughout this whirlwind campaign of theirs, Cummins has been there. But he's not really been there. He has operated on the fringes, an outsider looking in at his own team. Coming into the final, David Warner, Travis Head, Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell were the ones with memorable 'look at me performances'.
Cummins corrected that with a spell of 2/34 over 10 tight overs. He bowled 30 dots and didn't concede a single boundary. He began the good work even before a ball was bowled in anger. He called correctly at the toss and inserted India in a slow, sluggish surface. At the time, it seemed like the wrong call. As the second innings progressed, it was the perfect call.
Another of the multiple decisions that paid for him was bringing himself on as early as the eighth over. Off his eighth ball, he had a lift-off. It was a perfect Test match ball, just back of a length in that channel outside off stump. Shreyas Iyer, eager to get some bat, got a thin outside edge to Josh Inglis.
By this time, he had already sussed out the nature of the surface so he stuck to bowling off-cutters or short-pitched balls into the wicket. It held for a touch too long and made run-scoring difficult for the batters. While both Virat Kohli and KL Rahul weren't overly bothered in trying to find boundaries -- they went 96 balls without scoring one -- Cummins knew he had the pair exactly where he wanted.
For the record, he was also helped by an inspired fielding effort. Rather than blindly throwing themselves at the ball, they were also anticipating, waiting like predators for prey. They saved a good 30-40 runs thanks to their fielding alone.
Cut back to Cummins, whose ploy of bowling short into a surface stripped of any pace was working. His first spell was flawless -- 5-0-14-1. But India's middle-order had done lots of damage throughout the campaign without taking any risks.
So he brought himself back on to try and dislodge Kohli. Another short-pitched ball claimed Kohli's wicket. The No. 3 tried to run it down but he had room to work. So, he only managed to play on. In the process, he had managed what he had set out to do. Silence the blue wall totalling over a lakh.
A glorious dream had cruelly been extinguished in the most predictable way possible.
A talismanic figure wearing green and gold dismissing a record-setting India batter in a World Cup final.
A few hours later, he held aloft a sixth World Cup.