Serendipity or destiny? Australia, India to decide at the MCG

Australia and India will take on at the MCG in the T20 World Cup 2020 final. © Getty Images

In my first interview of this tournament, the CEO of the World Cup Local Organising Committee Nick Hockley didn’t use the word serendipity, but he seemed to be describing it. “Quite early on we knew that the final had to be scheduled on a Sunday. It just so happens that International Women’s Day is on a Sunday. All the stars started to align.”

It’s a sentiment that drove the planning of a tournament. If not now, when? If not here, where? So they did the homework, put their plans in place, and then hoped that things go their way. Because once the cricket starts, that’s all you can do. Hope. Then the game takes over, and the shape the tournament will take moves out of the organisers’ control. 

This one has gone exactly the way they planned. In a way no one could have anticipated.

An Australia-India final was the best bet to #FillTheMCG, that was a given. At the very least, there was an expectation that Australia had to get to the final. That dream seemed under threat on one flank when India beat Australia in the tournament opener, leaving the hosts perpetually within one bad day of a premature exit. A scare against Sri Lanka and a high pressure game against New Zealand later, the top four were back on track. 

Then came the high drama of the semifinals. Rain ensured India earned their spot, denying England, the team that had knocked them out in the last two ICC events. And somehow, those grey Sydney skies found a small window of respite and opportunity, one that Australia took by outplaying South Africa.

After the semi-finals, I asked Meg Lanning if she felt there was something bigger than a cricket tournament going on. “I do, and that was always what this tournament was about. It was about showing there’s a pathway, there’s female role models out there for young girls to look up to, and inspiring young people to be involved,” she said.

But also, “Yeah, it seems like it has sort of fallen into place a little bit, and Sunday is going to be massive. We’re really pleased we get the opportunity to be a part of it.”

India have taken the theme of serendipity one step further and invoked destiny. “It’s all about destiny, and I’m a big believer in destiny. I feel like this is the way it was meant to be,” said Veda Krishnamurthy after the semis.

“There is a joke going around that this World Cup is made in such a way that it’s helping us, starting from the wickets to everything else” she said after India had advanced to the final. 

It’s easy to see why she says that. The opening game was played at the Sydney Showground, a slow pitch situated in a suburb populated by south Asian diaspora. Any other women’s cricket match in Sydney would have been played at North Sydney Oval, an Australian fortress encircling a flat track. But the scale of the tournament saw the game get an upgrade, and Australia were ambushed by their own success. 

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But like the semifinal showed, Australia have had their share of ‘destiny’ too.  On a day that saw about 15 hours of rain, it abated for the two hours that mattered to give the home team 20 overs. Then it came back in the interval, and if it had lasted 10 minutes more, South Africa would have played the final. Not the green and gold team that home nation wanted. Not the one the MCG needed.

Then it stopped, and we got a game. In the last over, as the result became clear, the rain returned. It didn’t stop falling for another four hours. The smallest, most perfect window for an Aussie miracle.

That the entire tournament has benefitted from peripheral ‘coincidences’ that have gone it’s way is undeniable. The heated discussion about reserve days for knock-out games, after a semifinal was lost for the first time in history, has brought the attention of the world to the southern hemisphere. And India men’s truncated tour of New Zealand, where they lost the second Test inside three days, has ensured the Indian women have the country’s undivided attention.

Then there’s the fact that the warm up act for the final could not have been a better fit. Katy Perry’s dates were locked in and then her other ‘date’ lined up. Three days before the final, she announced her pregnancy through her new music video, revealing one of the best kept secrets in the entertainment industry. Interest in her has skyrocketed, which will pour into her next live performance, at the MCG. Some of her greatest hits are around themes of women taking up space, the space that they deserve. With more than 80,000 tickets already sold, the MCG is set to be that space that the women take up, with (the American) Perry headlighting the act, baby bump and all.

For both teams involved, the potential is life-changing, not just game changing. India’s men winning the 2007 World T20 was the catalyst for the formation of the IPL, and no tournament has changed world cricket more. The potential for an Indian win to accelerate a Women’s IPL cannot be overstated. An Australian win would emphasise their dominance and allow them to crystallize their greatness in a once in a lifetime opportunity, a home World Cup.

Either way, the tournament has set new benchmarks in how women’s World Cups can and should be conducted in the future. This final will be different.

“No doubt about that”, echoed Lanning. “I’ve been to the MCG when there’s 100,000 fans there, and I’ve been in the stands, and the atmosphere is absolutely incredible, and I’ve sort of had goosebumps watching. To think that we’ll be out in the middle experiencing that, that’s going to be really exciting and such a great thing to be a part of.”

https://youtu.be/MXvzxSeK7lQ

Indian fans will be pointing to another coincidence: the final falls on Harmanpreet Kaur’s birthday. It will mark eleven years and one day since she made her international debut. Her mother is here to watch her live for the first time, which is a big deal for her – she has ‘Ma’ tattooed on her wrist. How she will want to show her mother (and a nation) a daughter’s worth, how her team will want to give her the perfect birthday gift.

Sunday will make history and change the course of women’s sport. Whoever wins, that is this tournaments destiny.

If not this, what?

India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Arundhati Reddy, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Richa Ghosh.

Australia: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes, Erin Burns,Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy (wk), Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Molly Strano, Georgia Wareham.