Sydney in late March. It’s autumn, but it feels like summer. Warm, dry, hot, blue. Blue was the colour of the skies but also of the shirts in the stands and the streets around the SCG.
There are 42,330 people inside the ground. God knows how many were barracking for the away team, but it was a damn sight more than for the Australians. There were yellow, gold and green shirts too, but dotted between, like flicks of paint on a bright blue canvas.
These two sides have had weird, long summers. I needn’t tell you that Australia’s started with sorrow, the ultimate emotional tragedy and challenge.
Since then, they’ve performed brilliantly despite – perhaps because of – that loss.
They’ve also endured some untimely and unfortunate injuries and internal squabbles that have seen youngsters burdened with premature responsibility and playing new, unexpected roles.
To a man, they’ve thrived – and results have followed. They’ve lost one game all summer, away from home, by one wicket, to the team they now face in a World Cup final. At home.
India’s summer had been the opposite, and combined with all that blue, made Thursday’s match a hellish proposition for the Australians.
It was a partisan crowd, but not the way they’d have wanted it. A busload of Indians drove around central Sydney chanting and dancing and shouting for hours before the game. There was blue everywhere.
Their superfan, Sudhir Kumar Chaudhry and his body paint, World Cup toupee and vast Indian flag, was stationed outside the ground on Driver Avenue prior to the game; cabs pulled over, fans crowded round in search of selfies and songs. The Aussies just filed in quietly, expectantly; there was no escaping the Indians.
There’s been no escaping the Indians all tournament, to be honest. After a disastrous early summer where they couldn’t buy a win – even against England, for goodness sake – once the World Cup arrived wherever they went, they packed out the ground and smashed the opposition.
Their bowlers had come from nowhere and taken all 70 wickets available to them from seven matches. In Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni, they boasted three of the finest finishers to play the game and their batsmen had all made runs; they hadn’t even lost a wicket in the powerplay.
They’d extended their winning run at World Cups to 11. World Cups do weird things to them. Under MS Dhoni, India win matches at World Cups. Stadium packed, a wicket that looked like it could take spin and that run of results behind them; it felt right.
This, too, was the nasty semi. Tuesday’s epic between the Black Caps and South Africa was all sweetness and joy and ‘isn’t cricket wonderful?’ It was sport at its most visceral and basic; it was close, either team could have won but one team left heartbroken and the other overjoyed.
The home crowd left happy but, in truth, that was the neutral’s final. The second semi wasn’t the neutral’s bag; two of the Big Three, with bad blood between them and a whole lot of brats.
In the end, Australia prevailed, and handsomely, winning by 95 runs.
Having won the toss, throughout their innings, Australia just couldn’t shake India. Every time the visitors needed a wicket, they got the one they wanted, or more the one Australia didn’t want to lose – and how their fans roared.
David Warner started fast, then fell. Steve Smith was imperious, then as 200 for him and 380 for Australia appeared possible, his departure triggered a collapse that saw them lose 4-51 in 49 balls.
A bit of lower-order tug, though, saw them reach 7-328 and meant India would need the biggest World Cup chase ever for the opportunity to defend their title.
If anyone was going to do it, it was them. And how they started. Shikhar Dhawan makes centuries after being dropped and how Brad Haddin must have rued his simple shell as the southpaw made hay.
Australia was worried. Michael Clarke bit his nail. But a flying Dhawan got impatient against Josh Hazelwood and his top-order colleagues were hurried out by the Mitchells and timely wickets tumbled.
While Dhoni was there, the hope lingered but it was all too little, too late, as the pressure created by Australia’s brilliant fielding told.
The signs suggested it was India’s day, but how telling it was that by the time Dhoni fell and all Indian hope was extinguished, the blue shirts had gone, replaced by green seats and those gold dots. Those dots made as much noise as the sea of blue had earlier.
Now just New Zealand await at the MCG, where the dots will become the sea of gold and this extraordinary, seemingly endless summer finally comes to a close.