India's 'second favourite' team out to spoil the home party

Australia were fan favourites for their previous World Cup final on Indian soil. They are unlikely to get the same reception this weekend

Ask any member of Australia's team involved in their prior World Cup win on Indian soil, and they'll confirm a key component of that unlikely success was the overwhelming support they received in the final from local fans.

The remarkable scenes of India cricket lovers dancing and singing in celebration as Allan Border and his players lifted the trophy at Eden Gardens in 1987 paint a starkly contrasting scene to the reception that awaits Pat Cummins' men at Ahmedabad's Narendra Modi Stadium 36 years and 11 days later.

It is expected the cavernous new venue, with a capacity of between 110,000 and 132,000 depending on whose truth you prefer, will be almost exclusively filled by home-team supporters with most of them clad in the sky-blue of India's ODI playing strip.

While the minority of Australia supporters clad in yellow might be easy to spot among the azure sea come Sunday, it's unlikely their voice will be heard unless events are unfolding badly for Rohit Sharma and his highly favoured outfit.

It will ensure a similarly one-sided atmosphere as that which awaited Australia heading into the 1987 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan at Lahore, a match that saw them swing from subcontinental villains to conquering heroes quite literally overnight.

As was the case in the current tournament, Australia's opening game in 1987 was a clash with India – then reigning World Cup champions following their stunning defeat of West Indies at Lord's four years earlier – at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.

Even though fans there held fond memories of the historic tied Test between the two teams a year prior, there was no love lost as India began their World Cup defence against Border's unheralded outfit.

But by the time India's batting collapsed and last man Maninder Singh was bowled by Steve Waugh in the final over to seal a one-run win for the visitors, the 50,000-strong crowd had been rendered mute and the 16-1 outsiders at tournament's beginning had earned grudging respect.

On This Day: Australia win the 1987 World Cup

When the teams met again at Delhi a fortnight later, Border's men bore the brunt of around 40,000 Indian fans who took issue with batter David Boon's demonstrable disagreement over a caught-behind decision from the bowling of Ravi Shastri.

However, when the plucky Australians won through to the semi-final where they silenced 40,000 previously exultant Pakistan supporters with an 18-run win at Gadaffi Stadium, they won approval in India if not outright acclaim, given the co-hosts expected their team to reach the decider by beating England.

To the disbelief of local fans and the horror of promoters who saw both their drawcards ejected in successive days, India were humbled by 35 runs on what England felt was a suspiciously dry Wankhede Stadium pitch in Mumbai and allegiances in India then swung violently.

Steve Waugh cuts for a boundary during the 1987 tournament // Getty

Having boarded a charter flight from Lahore to Kolkata barely two hours after their semi-final triumph, the Australia players arrived in West Bengal to find they had been adopted as honorary locals by dint of results in the tournament's penultimate round.

"When we landed back on Indian soil we quickly learned that the Indian people loved us, because we had knocked over their arch-enemy on their home turf," squad member Steve Waugh wrote in his memoir 'Out of My Comfort Zone'.

"Twenty four hours later, and our popularity was like a tsunami gathering up anyone and everything – thanks to England's shock victory over the host nation.

"Our support base had now grown from 20 million (in Australia) to one billion."

Border is chaired off by Jones and McDermott with the World Cup trophy // Getty

The failure of either co-host to reach the trophy game in 1987 not only quashed organisers' dream of an India-Pakistan final, it also forced scalpers to slash ticket prices which meant the terraces at Eden Gardens heaved with either 70,000 or 90,000 (again, choose your reality) when the final began.

From the moment England lost their seventh wicket and were left staring at a victory equation of 34 runs from 15 balls, the chanting and gyrating began among the euphoric fans who stayed until near darkness to cheer Border's men on their victory lap and to enjoy the fireworks display that followed.

Indian guards watch the fireworks display after the 1987 World Cup final // Getty

"There were probably a hundred thousand people at the ground and I reckon 99,000 were cheering for us," Border would later recall.

"It was almost like a home match at the MCG.

"Having that amount of support helps, and on that day it certainly did.

India-based Australian fans have been present throughout the tournament, but expected to be scarce in Sunday's final // Getty

"It just makes a hell of a difference and I will always be in debt to that Eden Gardens crowd for getting us over the line."

However, subsequent World Cups played in India and its neighbouring cricket countries have not seen a return of that groundswell support for Australia which is likely to be even more noticeable by its absence at Sunday's final.

When the Cup returned to the subcontinent in 1996, Australia's local stocks had fallen due to the 1995 bribery allegation levelled by Mark Waugh and Shane Warne against Pakistan's Salim Malik and then umpire Darrell Hair's calling of Sri Lanka's Muthiah Muralidaran for throwing at the MCG later that year.

Australia and West Indies also chose to forfeit their scheduled 1996 Cup games in Sri Lanka over security concerns in the wake of a terrorist bombing in Colombo weeks before the tournament began, in which 80 people died.

As a result, local fans found it difficult to work out who to cheer for when those two teams met in a semi-final at Mohali, but found no such conflict when Australia faced off against Sri Lanka in the subsequent final at Lahore where the underdogs triumphed to land their first World Cup.

David Warner is a fan favourite in India thanks to the IPL // Getty

And there was certainly no equivocation when India most recently tackled Australia in an ODI World Cup play-off game on home turf during the 2011 tournament, coincidentally a quarter-final staged in Ahmedabad albeit at the former Gujarat Cricket Association ground that pre-dated the new Modi Stadium.

As then Australia captain Ricky Ponting noted in his autobiography 'At the Close of Play': "I've heard some loud crowds in India and that was right up there."

None of that barracking was directed in Australia's favour, and the polite applause that greeted Ponting's century in what would prove his final innings as ODI captain was dwarfed by the roars that accompanied half-centuries for Sachin Tendulkar and then Yuvraj Singh, who piloted his team to a five-wicket win.

Ricky Ponting's century in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against India was met with crowd indifference // Getty

The sweeping euphoria only heightened as India then surged past Pakistan in the subsequent semi-final at Mohali, then Sri Lanka in the final at Wankhede to lift the World Cup for the second time.

India's ever-hopeful fans have been waiting twelve and a half years since that triumph to reprise their celebrations, and will collectively believe their moment of destiny awaits against the nation's long-discarded 'second favourite' team on Sunday.

2023 ODI World Cup Finals

First semi-final: India beat New Zealand by 70 runs

Second semi-final: Australia beat South Africa by three wickets

November 19: Final, India v Australia, Ahmedabad (D/N), 7.30pm AEDT