The night before the 2011 World Cup final, mental coach Paddy Upton delivered the concluding team talk to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men.
It was what South African Upton called his “Al Pacino moment”. In less than a minute with a calm conviction, Upton explained the significance of the occasion.
“This final is like a Bollywood movie. We know exactly what our scripts are. We have the best actors. We are completely prepared for our roles. Tomorrow, we only need to go out and perform those roles, to do what we know to do. And we will cross the line,” was all he told the players.
Cut to 2023 and as Rahul Dravid waits for his “Al Pacino moment” before Sunday’s showdown, he doesn’t have to say anything much different.
The message is pretty clear: Go and deliver; do what you do best. Rohit Sharma too echoed similar sentiments.
India head coach Rahul Dravid.
If Dhoni’s men won the trophy for Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit’s team wants to do it for Dravid, maybe as a parting gift to the head coach.
“What Dravid has done for Indian cricket is massive... And he also feels that he wants to be part of this big occasion. It’s for us to do it for him,” said Rohit.
Almost 24 hours before the final, the Team India captain appeared cool and relaxed. He patiently answered each question and even if he was bothered by match-eve jitters, he didn’t reveal it. The only time he sounded a bit irritated was when a cellphone rang out with a shrill sound in the middle of the news conference.
Rohit knows the final will not just be about strategies and game plans but dealing with loads of emotion and pressure.
“See, emotionally it’s a big thing, a big occasion... Without a doubt, because whatever hard work and dreams you have, you have for this. And tomorrow, that day will be in front of us... The biggest challenge for professional athletes is how you can put all this aside and focus on their work,” Rohit said on Saturday.
“For me, this is the biggest moment. I know that I have to focus on what my team needs me to do. And I want to put aside everything else for a while,” he said.
“I don’t know how each individual will be feeling. But when they are around the group, around our meetings, around our training, everybody seems to be quite relaxed and calm.”
Rohit has allowed the players to express themselves in their own way. If his high-risk, high-reward approach has fetched the desired results at the top of the order, assigning specific roles to every player has contributed to the team’s 10-match winning streak.
He has also let Virat Kohli bat deep into the innings even if it meant taking a few overs to settle down. It suited Kohli’s style and he’s having his best run in what is probably his last ICC tournament in this format: a record 711 runs at an average of 101.57, including three centuries.
The final will be played on the same wicket which hosted the India-Pakistan game more than a month ago.
“This wicket has some grass... You know that wicket looked a lot drier than this one. From my understanding it’s slightly going to be on the slower side,” Rohit said.
He didn’t spill the beans on the playing XI but Ravichandran Ashwin remains in the mix. If they do decide to play him, it will be a brave decision to change the winning combination.
More than the skills, Sunday will be about the mind games though Pat Cummins’ team has been cut down on their in-your-face style since the ball-tampering incident in South Africa. The IPL camaraderie has also played its part.
But when push comes to shove, such generosity can be thrown out of the window.
Cummins acknowledged they have a “couple of thoughts” and “we’ll come up with some plans” for Rohit and Kohli.
The Australians have won eight matches in a row after a poor start to their campaign to reach their eighth Cup final.
“One of the pleasing things is I still don’t feel like we’ve played the complete game. Maybe against the Netherlands, but outside of that, we probably haven’t,”
“There have been no huge wins. We’ve had to fight for every win, but we’ve found a way to win. And different players have stood up at different times... Taking that confidence, knowing that we don’t have to be at our absolute best to challenge any team... All the boys draw a lot of confidence from that going into tomorrow.”
For Rohit, it will be a matter of staying balanced in the middle of what is going to be the biggest match of their career.
“If you make mistakes tomorrow, then whatever good work you did in those 10 matches will go to waste,” Rohit warned.
He had missed the 2011 bus by a whisker and that remains one of his regrets in life. He refused to look back and turn emotional again when quizzed about it on Saturday. As leader of the pack on Sunday, it will be Rohit’s golden chance to rewrite the script.