No.2 in Wisden’s men’s ODI innings of 2023 is Travis Head‘s heroic hundred in the World Cup final against India. Naman Agarwal relives the knock that shattered a billion dreams.

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Wisden’s men’s ODI innings of 2023, No.2: Travis Head – 137 (120)

Australia v India
Cricket World Cup final
Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad, November 19

The constant rise in the quantity of cricket over the years has naturally resulted in an increase in the number of opportunities for players to become overnight heroes. But with the increase in volume coming majorly through franchise cricket, boundaries between countries and cultures have blurred. You can play an unbelievable knock or dismiss the opposition’s most popular batter and be hailed for it, but rarely will it make you an antagonist in this day and age.

Unless you are Travis Head.

On the fateful night of November 19 in Ahmedabad, amidst a sea of blue at the Narendra Modi Stadium, every time Head crunched a boundary off the middle of his bat, it was hard to make out what was louder – the crunch or the silence that followed immediately after. Every shot he played was like a dagger to the hearts of a billion people. The World Cup had India written all over it, or so it seemed until Head came, Head saw, and Head conquered.

Two weeks before the start of a World Cup campaign is categorically the worst time to get your hand fractured. That is what Head managed to do when facing Gerald Coetzee in an ODI in Centurion before the showpiece event. But such was Australia’s faith in Head’s abilities that they did not name a replacement. They carried him for half of the World Cup in the hope that he would be fit for the latter stages. It was a gamble that paid off. And how.

In the final, Pat Cummins & co. had done their job with the ball after winning an important toss. The sluggish surface, which might have been in line with what the Indian management wanted, played against the hosts as they never got going, only managing to put 240 on the board.

India had batted first in one of the three men’s ODI World Cup finals they had played prior to 2023 – in 1983. They scored a measly 183 then, which turned out to be enough to see off the mighty West Indies. When David Warner edged the first ball of the 2023 chase through the slips for four, Australia knew that like the 1983 World Cup final and unlike the warning a rearview mirror, the target in front of them was farther than it appeared.

Under the influence of lights and with more than ninety thousand unified voices behind their back, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami were putting on a display of fast bowling of the highest quality. Head knew that hanging around in those conditions against two men seemingly possessed by the fast bowling gods spelt doom. Which is why he did what he knew best. Look to attack.

[caption id=”attachment_598729″ align=”alignnone” width=”1024″]Wisden's men's ODI innings of 2023 Travis Head capitalised on his early luck in the World Cup final. (Photo by Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)[/caption]

Great scripts in sport are seldom written without a stroke of luck. To survive the initial burst, Head needed plenty. Even as he tried to put the pressure back on the Indian seamers, some deliveries would whizz past his bat and leave him in embarrassing positions for a top-order batter.

A back-of-length ball from Bumrah which opened him up and almost kissed the off bail through to the wicketkeeper will be replayed for years to come by Indian fans in attempts of placing the proverbial asterisk next to Head’s knock.

Despite all the initial mayhem, Head survived. And once he survived, he knew the night was his for the taking.

The first signs of the shifting of momentum were visible in tenth over, when Head smashed Shami for two back-to-back boundaries. The spinners arrived soon after, and so did the dew.

Head took some time to gauge how the ball behaved for Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav as he nudged nine runs off his first 14 balls after the first powerplay. The two spinners had strangled teams through the middle overs all through the World Cup. They weren’t going to do that to Head, though. The 15th ball was slogged over mid-wicket for six.

Watching him go on the offensive against the in-form spin duo gave India hope, but it didn’t take long for it to turn into despair. Mohammed Siraj, introduced as late as the 17th over, attempted a few short balls, one of Head’s supposed weaknesses. But by then he was well set.

Wait, that sounds like a familiar story, doesn’t it? Oh yes, this wasn’t the first time Travis Head was snatching an ICC tournament final away from India in 2023 after the bowlers had failed to target his weakness in time. Right.

Head reached fifty in the 22nd over, off 58 balls. He took 37 for his next fifty. The wind had been knocked out of India’s sail by then. Australia were still 56 runs away, but as was the hallmark of their team in the 2000s, it felt like the opposition had given up much before they were defeated. Such was the cruise control that Head was in.

Not many have much of an idea where his next 37 runs came from as the sense of occasion started to sink in. Head’s attempted pull shot to finish off the game landed in the hands of Shubman Gill at the mid-wicket boundary. There were no celebrations. Nor was there much of an applause from the crowd as he walked back.

Twenty years ago, it had been Ricky Ponting. This time, it was Travis Head who had established himself as India’s villain.