Time will tell how reverentially the 2023 World Cup will remembered but the one thing that will never change, as always, is the scorecard of the final which will dispassionately indicate to future generations that Australia won it easily. Which, at the end, they did. But there was so much else to the story of the tournament.
The Netherlands and Afghanistan delivered moments to savour forever, the former with victories against South Africa and Bangladesh and the latter hammering defending champions England and Pakistan. England, indeed, endured such a calamitous defence of their title that they needed to beat the Netherland and Pakistan in the final two matches just to qualify for the 2025 Champions Trophy, which they did.
South Africa won more games than ever before in World Cup but extended their unwanted record of losing five semifinals without winning one. No other team comes close. This time, however, they went down fighting bravely in adverse conditions. Not only was there no ‘choke’, there was the opposite with David Miller scoring a brilliant century to provide hope when there might have been none.
Perennial semifinalists, New Zealand, once again found a way to reach the knock out stage after winning their first four games and losing their next four before thrashing Sri Lanka in their last group game. But the Indian juggernaut brushed them aside in what looked increasingly like a march to glorious victory.
Indian authorities even encouraged the use of a dry, used pitch for the final at the 130 000-seater Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad for the final to give their team an advantage but it backfired spectacularly as Pat Cummins bravely chose to bowl first and saw his Australian team dismiss the hosts for a modest 240.
Travis Head was among the best ‘stories’ of a World Cup full of them. Having broken a thumb just weeks before the tournament was due to begin, he was selected anyway in the knowledge that he would be unavailable for at least the first four games. He stayed in Australia during his recovery. When Australia were heavily defeated in their first two games, including a 134-run thumping by South Africa, the decision looked far-fetched and fanciful.
But the Aussies stormed back to win their next eight games to reach the final with Head claiming the player-of-the-match award in the semifinal against the Proteas with two vital wickets and an innings of 62 in a low-scoring thriller. He repeated the achievement in the final with a sensational innings of 137 to join an illustrious club of centurions in World Cup finals – Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Aravinda de Silva, Mahela Jayawardena, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist.
It was Australia’s sixth victory in eight finals, a record so far beyond their nearest rivals it’s hard to imagine any other team ever catching up. South Africa’s fifth semifinal loss without an appearance in the final is also a record which may last forever.
Aiden Markram broke the record for the fastest World Cup century (49 balls) only to see it broken, as he predicted, two weeks later when Glenn Maxwell reached three figures against the Netherlands from just 40 balls. In the same game allrounder, Bas de Leede, conceded 115 runs from his 10 overs, another ODI record.
Australia’s group match against trans-Tasman rivals, New Zealand, saw 771 runs scored with the Black caps falling just five runs short of a record run-chase. It was a World Cup record aggregate which confirmed the trend towards batting records rather than bowling ones. Pakistan speedster, Haris Rauf, conceded 533 runs in nine matches, a record he ‘claimed’ from England’s Adil Rashid.
On the plus side for bowlers, Mitchell Starc, who took a critical 3-55 in the final, extended a remarkable World Cup record of taking at least one wicket in 23 consecutive games. If he is available and selected again in four years time when the tournament is hosted in South Africa he, too, might extend a record beyond conceivable matching.
South Africa were the first team to post four totals in excess of 350 in a World Cup and set the record total of 428-5 against Sri Lanka. They played some of the most exciting and compelling cricket of the tournament and won millions of fans and admirers. Their own supporters, of course, are the most critical and hardest to please. But they will be back. You can only keep trying, there’s no giving up.