KOLKATA: Australia head into their World Cup decider against India with all pieces in place following a devastating return to form of their vaunted pace attack in the South Africa semi-final.

Power play wickets had proved elusive for the five-times champions but the withering opening spells of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were decisive against the Proteas in the three-wicket win in Kolkata.

Along with captain Pat Cummins, the fire-and-ice duo of Starc and Hazlewood had previously been left in the shade by leg-spinner Adam Zampa and his 22 victims at the tournament.

On Thursday, however, the quicks grabbed eight of the 10 wickets between them for a handy confidence boost before the ultimate test against India’s peerless batting machine.

“It’s probably not been the tournament I would have liked from the get-go,” Starc told reporters. “But nice to step up in a big game.”

Pace has never failed to be a factor in Australia’s white-ball triumphs and proved key when Aaron Finch’s squad won the nation’s maiden T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2021.

For all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, the glow in the Australian dressing room is akin to the squad’s ebullience during the UAE tournament where they peaked at the right time.

Australia’s quicks will again be looking to make early in-roads against the hosts, who racked up 397 for four in their semi-final against New Zealand in Mumbai.

New Zealand’s pacemen failed to deal with the heat brought by India captain Rohit Sharma and fellow opener Shubman Gill who paved the way for the Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer centuries.

“It’s huge, and the bigger the game the more important it becomes,” said Hazlewood of capturing early wickets. “So we know the blueprint now if we’re bowling first, and hopefully go again on Sunday.”

Ahmedabad’s pitch is likely to be a major talking point following the Mumbai semi-final where the hosts made a late change and served up a slow wicket.

Australia beat England in Ahmedabad on a pitch which Hazlewood described as good “without being an absolute flat track”.

He said he expected similar for the final but was confident Australia’s quicks would be able to deal with any conditions.

“We’ve been around the block a few times now, and we’ve seen that with India, apart from that one game against us, they’ve played three quicks for the majority as well and they’ve been outstanding,” he said.

“So we know it can be done, we’ve seen them do it and we’ve been here a lot of times now so we know how to bowl in these conditions.”

Australian batsmen had a tough day in Kolkata after they slipped to 137-5 while chasing 213 following a 62 by Travis Head, whose departure triggered a collapse as South African spinners Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi attempted to take control.

But Steve Smith (30), Josh Linglis (28), Starc (16 not out) and Cummins (14 not out) guided the team home with 16 balls to spare.

On Sunday, Indian spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja will be a threat to the Australian batsmen in Ahmedabad.

“I guess we’ll find out when we get to Ahmedabad tomorrow and see if it’s a fresh wicket or an old wicket,” Starc said, adding he believe the final will be “loud and a spectacle of cricket”.

“It’s a big occasion, it’s a World Cup final,” Starc told reporters. “Guys in both changing rooms have been there before at different formats.

“Both teams played each other in the [World Test Championship] Final earlier in the year. I don’t think either changing room is new to big occasions.

“It’s going to be loud. No doubt there’s going to be different amounts of pressure at different times on both teams. I think it’s just going to be a great spectacle of cricket.”

Rohit Sharma’s India have a perfect 10 wins from 10 games at this World Cup after seeing off New Zealand by 70 runs in the first semi-final on Wednesday.

They are firm favourites to lift the trophy for a third time and second at home after 2011.

Australia started the tournament with losses to India and then South Africa before they won seven straight league matches to storm into the final-four.

“They’ve been the best in the tournament so far and we both find ourselves in the finals,” said Starc of the match-up. “That’s what World Cups are about. We played them in our first game of the tournament, now we get to take them on in the last. What a place to be at the end of a World Cup.”

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2023

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