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So near yet so far! India falter at 'final' hurdle as Australia clinch record-extending 6th World Cup title

NEW DELHI: Sensational Travis Head starred on the biggest stage of them all, slamming a masterful ton as he powered Australia to a record-extending sixth World Cup title at the world's largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

Shattering a billion dreams of a third World Cup title, Head stood rock-solid in Rohit Sharma and his men's way as India's dream run at the 2023 edition of the tournament came to a heart-wrenching end.

After 10 straight wins, the law of averages finally had its say as India got their first and only defeat in the final against a battle-hardened Australian team.

Going into the final with 8 straight wins of their own, Australia played like champions while India yet again crumbled under pressure at a big stage.

After bowlers fired in unison and restricted India to a modest 240, Head and Marnus Labuschagne stitched a sensational stand, powering their side to a comprehensive win.

Here's a look at the key moments of the World Cup final between India and Australia at the Narendra Modi Stadium:

Rohit's breezy start but Aussies make the ball talk
As skipper Pat Cummins won a crucial toss and opted to bowl, his counterpart Rohit Sharma got off in his usual manner, in fifth gear, stunning the pacers by his breathtaking stroke play against the new ball. As India added 30 runs in the first 4 overs, courtesy a Rohit assault, it looked as if India were on their way to another cracking start. However, Mitchell Starc drew first blood in the 5th over, dismissing Shubman Gill, who was like a cat on a hot tin roof and hardly offered a settled moment, for 4. Virat Kohli then began against his nature, taking on the bowlers early as he and Rohit got going. However, in the final over of the first Powerplay, offie Glenn Maxwell got rid of Rohit for 47 as Travis Head pulled off a superb catch. In the following over, in-form Shreyas Iyer fell as India were three down for 82 in 11 overs.

Kohli-Rahul stand
After losing Rohit and Shreyas in consecutive overs, India were in desperate need of a partnership and Virat Kohli and KL Rahul provided one, steadying the ship. However during the Kohli-Rahul stand, the Aussie bowlers dictated terms as both batters found scoring hard. With the two-paced surface aiding the bowlers, the Aussies were quick to realize that and bowled in a tight channel. There was a period during the Kohli and Rahul stand when there were no boundaries for 97 balls. Despite scoring heavily in the first powerplay, India's run rate dropped quite a bit during the Kohli-Rahul stand. As both focussed on rotating the strike, Kohli got to his 72nd fifty and first in the World Cup final at around the halfway mark. But then, against the run of play, India lost Kohli as Cummins struck upon his return. As Kohli chopped on for 54, the Aussies put the pressure right back on India.

Bowlers sharing responsibility and fielders providing perfect support
After the dismissal of Kohli, Rahul and a promoted Ravindra Jadeja looked to build another stand. As both dug in on the bowling-friendly pitch, Aussies did not allow them to score freely. Soon after Rahul raised his half-century, India suffered Jadeja (9) blow as Josh Hazlewood struck upon his return to end a 30-run stand. With India losing wickets at regular intervals, the run rate kept on dipping, putting more pressure on the batters. As Rahul fell for 66 in the 42nd over and new batters finding it difficult to score, it became evident that India might not get to a big total. Keeping the foot on the neck, the Aussies bowlers continued with their relentless pressure as India kept on losing wickets. Even the mighty slogger Suryakumar Yadav found it difficult to get the boundaries as wickets kept falling at the other end. Some really quality bowling coupled with superb fielding efforts helped Australia keep India to 240 all out in 50 overs. There were only 13 fours and three sixes in boundaries for India in their modest total.

Pacers strike around Aussie fast start
As Travis Head and David Warner began the chase, it was clear that they were to go hammer and tongs against the two new balls. With Jasprit Bumrah leaking 15 runs in the first over, Aussies got the early momentum in the chase. However, it was short lived as Mohammed Shami struck in his first over as Warner chased a wide delivery and got caught at second slip. But despite an early wicket, the pacers were unable to control the swinging ball as Australia managed a fast start with the help of some extras. Amid the bleeding of runs, India were in desperate need of a wicket and Bumrah produced what was required, dismissing Mitchell Marsh for 15 in his wicket-maiden over. A tentative Steve Smith then became Bumrah's third victim as Australia now found themselves in trouble at 47 for 3 inside the first powerplay.

Travis' remarkable ton and his stand with Marnus
With three wickets down for just 47, India now had something to go at as Australia needed a partnership that could rebuild the chase. Opener Head and Marnus Labuschagne joined forces and put up a superb batting display. Initially as the both focussed on building a stand, they kept on milking easy ones and twos along with occasional boundaries. With Australia crossing the 100-run mark in the 20th over, both kept the asking rate well below what was needed. Along with the Head fifty, Marnus too grew in confidence as the pitch also eased up a bit, now supporting the batters. As the stand between the two soared, frustration kept on piling up for skipper Rohit and his men. The century stand between Head and Marnus gave Australia the boost and Head then followed it up with a stupendous ton to put his side in the driver's seat. Unable to get a breakthrough, as Rohit started going out of ideas, Head capitalized on that and hit the fifth gear. Marnus, who played the second fiddle role to perfection, then raised his fifty as Australia inched closer. Eventually, the monster runs unbeaten stand between the two took Australia past the finish-line with 42 balls to spare.