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World Cup chokers? India searches for answers after latest letdown

Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma
Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma hugs her husband, the Indian cricketer Virat Kohli

Cricket-obsessed India was left grappling for answers after the team's devastating defeat to Australia in the final of their home World Cup extended a drought in global tournaments.  

A much-fancied India team led by skipper Rohit Sharma went into Sunday's final in front of nearly 100,000 fans in Ahmedabad undefeated and favourites to capture the one-day crown.

But they were outplayed by Pat Cummins' Australia, going down to a six-wicket defeat and leaving players, fans and pundits with a familiar feeling of disappointment.

"You can't deny the fact that it's been more than 10 years since they won a global title," Indian sports journalist R. Kaushik told AFP on Monday.

"If you look at the semi-final losses then there is a pattern, maybe there is something wrong in the planning," he added.

"You can interpret that as, 'Yes, they freeze on the big stage', or you can say that, 'On that day they were not good enough'. But it's hard to say they freeze mentally."

India's record makes for painful reading for its hundreds of millions of fanatical supporters.

Their last global title came a decade ago with the 2013 Champions Trophy.

Sunday was also India's second loss to the Australians in a final in five months, after they went down in the World Test Championship decider in June.

India won the one-day World Cup in 1983 and 2011, but then faltered at the semi-final stage in 2015 and 2019.

"India are the real chokers, they are the new chokers," fan Abir Saini, wearing a Virat Kohli Indian jersey, fumed as he trudged away from the world's biggest cricket stadium.

"They play well but fall at the final hurdle."


- 'Can't pin it down' -

Fans had turned anticipating an Indian victory after the hosts stormed into the final with 10 straight victories in the lead-up matches.

But it was Australia who triumphed to win a record-extending sixth World Cup crown, with Travis Head hitting a sparkling 137.

India coach Rahul Dravid appeared as baffled as anyone at his team's inability to get over the line.

"I mean, I guess if I knew the answer, I would say that," Dravid, who was appointed coach in 2021 until this year's World Cup, told reporters.

"I just think we haven't played really well on the day," he said of India's succession of near-misses.

The former captain said that "there's not one particular reason you can pin it down to", adding that on Sunday "we didn't bat well enough".

Indian media attempted to look on the bright side.

The Hindustan Times said in a headline: "Champions, nonetheless."

But it noted there were some "harsh lessons", prime among them lack of depth in the batting department.

"Don't despair, let's celebrate this India team," said The Times of India, highlighting several memorable moments during the six-week tournament -- including an emphatic win over Pakistan.

India's dire record when it really counts is in stark contrast to Australia's, who have won six of the eight ODI World Cup finals they have contested.

Osman Samiuddin, a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo, said Australia had been clear underdogs against what he called India's best-ever one-day side.

But he singled out for praise Australia's fast bowlers, their fielding and skipper Cummins, and most of all their winning mentality.

"They won the World Cup because Australia," he wrote, saying there was an air of inevitability to their latest success.

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