Five bold calls that won Australia the World Cup

They were the decisions that got tongues wagging but ones that paid off in the end to deliver Australia an against-the-odds triumph

Inside Australia's ODI World Cup celebrations

Australia's World Cup victory in India, the sixth time they have lifted world cricket's biggest prize, will be remembered as an against-the-odds triumph in perhaps the toughest atmosphere and conditions the game can provide.

After a sluggish start to their campaign, the Aussies eventually came to life to deliver the ultimate performance when it mattered most, capping an incredible 2023 that has also seen Pat Cummins' side claim the World Test Championship and retain the Ashes.

Australia's performances in India, particularly as the tournament wore on, were characterised by a distinct clarity of thought, as Cummins reiterated his mantra of 'failing our way' with the bat, and returning to 'pack mentality' fielding.

That clarity of thought was also exemplified by Australia's selection panel – led by chair George Bailey and assisted by selector Tony Dodemaide and coach Andrew McDonald – who pulled the right rein at almost every juncture in the lead-up to and during the World Cup.

The panel made four big calls during the campaign that indisputably paid off, while one final decision by Cummins proved crucial in Australia prevailing under intense pressure in Ahmedabad.

Here's the five bold calls that won Australia the 2023 ICC ODI World Cup.

1. Carrying an injured Travis Head

The first bold call of Australia's triumphant World Cup campaign was at best a surprise, and at worst derided as 'desperate'.

When a searing Gerald Coetzee bouncer broke Travis Head's hand three weeks out from the tournament, it was considered a huge blow to Australia's chances given the potent opening partnership Head had formed with David Warner.

Head eagerly awaits World Cup celebrations and reunions

But while many, including Cummins, began to consider who would replace the left-hander, McDonald had other ideas.

"We thought his World Cup was straight over," Cummins explained after the final.

"It wasn't until about the next night afterwards where 'Ronnie' (McDonald) came up to me. He's like, 'I haven't slept all last night – I think we're going to keep him. We're going to take the risk – if we're going to make the finals and we want to win the World Cup I think he needs to be there for the finals'.

Head dominates run chase with classic Cup final hundred

"It was his idea and great work by the medical team. That was a big risk. I think we could have been made to look really silly if that didn't pay off, but you've got to take those risks to win a tournament."

The risk paid off – in spades.

Brought into the XI for Australia's sixth game against New Zealand, Head plundered a century off 59 balls. He then went on to record one of the most influential combined finals performances in World Cup history, named player of the match in the semi-final victory over South Africa and then the decider against India three days' later to complete an incredible turnaround.

2. Changing their mind on Marnus Labuschagne

Clinical Aussies stun India to claim World Cup crown

Such was Marnus Labuschagne's standing in selectors' minds prior to the World Cup, the Test star was not only initially out-of-mind for Australia's final squad of 15 but was also left out of an extended 18-man group selected prior to the tournament.

The fact that, from this snub onwards, he played 19 games consecutive games up to and including the World Cup final where he played a crucial role in Australia's victory, is nothing short of incredible.

That is: five bilateral ODIs against South Africa, three against India, then all 11 World Cup matches.

Initially as a concussion substitute, then as an injury replacement, before given the nod as a 'balance' selection, Labuschagne continued to show his worth in the World Cup lead-up, and the selectors changed their minds.

The 'bold' aspect of the call comes from the doubts many had in naming Labuschagne and Steve Smith – batters with strike rates of 83.1 and 87.3 respectively – in the same XI.

However, on increasingly difficult wickets in India he was viewed as a crucial middle-order 'banker' who could absorb pressure at the right times.

This came to fruition in the final when, arriving at the crease with Australia 3-47 and India seamers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami on the hunt for wickets backed by a frenzied Ahmedabad crowd, Labuschagne weathered the storm to prove a perfect ally for Head, finishing unbeaten on 58 to see his side home.

3. Elevating Josh Inglis early

The decision to drop wicketkeeper Alex Carey just one game into the World Cup campaign was immediately contentious.

After a string of low scores leading into the tournament, before a duck against India in Australia's opening match, the selectors opted for immediate change, picking Josh Inglis for the second match against South Africa.

The decision drew criticism, including from former Test wicketkeeper and captain Tim Paine.

"I just don't understand," Paine said at the time on SEN Radio.

"If they didn't think he was the man or they thought he was that close to being dropped, then why go with him in the first game? We've had a year of planning for this."

But the move paid off.

Inglis' glovework was tidy throughout the entire campaign, culminating in five catches against India on Sunday – a World Cup final record.

Perhaps more notably, he made crucial contributions with the bat including a half-century against Sri Lanka in an early crunch clash, and a nerveless 28 under huge pressure against South Africa in the semi-final.

4. Heaping responsibility on Glenn Maxwell

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The decision to leave Ashton Agar out of Australia's 15-man World Cup squad allowed selectors to pick Labuschagne, however it placed enormous pressure on Glenn Maxwell as Australia's No.1 finger spinner in India.

Maxwell was no stranger to being handed responsibility with the ball, having been Australia's No.1 spinner in their 2015 World Cup-winning campaign, however in India this was a different proposition.

Three of the eventual semi-finalists each had a specialist finger-spinner; Ravindra Jadeja (India), Mitchell Santner (New Zealand) and Keshav Maharaj (South Africa).

Australia had batting allrounder Maxwell.

And when you consider he had hardly bowled throughout 2023 owing to his recovery from a broken leg suffered in November 2022, it was a significant role to throw his way.

But the Aussies backed in Maxwell from outset.

And he repaid their faith, finishing as the most economical (4.81 runs per over) of the team's frontline bowlers.

"We talk about him and his batting in one space, but I think his bowling has allowed us to function as a team different to potentially how we saw it coming in and potentially how everyone else saw it coming in," McDonald said of Maxwell in the latter stage of the group games.

5. Bowling first in the final

Finally, the gutsiest call of them all.

Pat Cummins knew bowling first in a World Cup final carried enormous risk, and should it backfire could even pit him among former captains whose bad decisions at the toss continue to haunt them to this day.

But he did it anyway.

Backing his bowlers to fire in the afternoon heat when the Ahmedabad surface was drier, Cummins calculated that batting could become more straightforward during the evening when predicted dew would arrive.

And he was proven exactly right, not only prophetic in how the game played out but leading the way himself with the ball (2-34 from 10 overs).

'That's the pinnacle': Cummins on World Cup final triumph

"I mean, any captain deciding to bowl first at the toss, that's a gutsy, courageous move," Ricky Ponting told Sky Sports in the aftermath.

"Australia felt that if they could bowl well on that dry wicket early on and restrict India, batting was going to get easier in the second innings – but we all know if you get that call wrong and you lose the game, that's a huge decision to make for a relatively young captain."

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

Final: Australia beat India by six wickets