By Amlan Chakraborty
AHMEDABAD, India, Nov 17 (Reuters) - India and Australia have faced off in some of the most engaging contests in recent times and a new chapter to their rivalry will be added when they contest 50-over cricket's ultimate glory in Sunday's World Cup final in Ahmedabad.
The familiar foes will conclude their campaign like they started it, against each other, and none of the 130,000-odd seats at the Narendra Modi Stadium will be empty.
Favourites India comprehensively beat number two-ranked Australia in their tournament opener and then strung together 10 wins in a row to storm into the final of their home World Cup with an unblemished record.
Australia, by contrast, began with two defeats before going on an eight-match winning streak.
"We want to take on the best. They've been the best in the tournament so far," Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc said of India. "It's why we play the game."
Captain Rohit Sharma and his team's semi-final victory against New Zealand, considered their bogey side, has answered questions about India's fragility in knockouts.
Rohit has led by example, with unbridled aggression at the top allowing others to play with more freedom.
Virat Kohli, the tournament's leading scorer, has been the trusted anchor, while others have batted around the senior duo in India's familiar template.
"The top-five-six batters, whenever they've gotten an opportunity, they've made it really count," Rohit said after the semi-final. "All in all, the batting was superb, and that is the kind of template we want to bat with and move forward with."
Their bowling, aided by the knowledge of home conditions, has been equally impressive.
Jasprit Bumrah has stifled batters both with the new ball and in the death overs while Mohammed Shami has emerged as the tournament's leading wicket-taker despite warming the bench in India's first four matches.
The left-arm duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja have shared the spin duties with considerable success on their quest for a third 50-overs World Cup trophy.
Expectation in the cricket-mad country is particularly high since the last three editions of the tournament have been won by the host nation.
Australia, however, are banking on their ability to lift themselves in big moments to gatecrash the Indian party and earn a sixth World Cup title.
Captain Pat Cummins and his men made heavy weather of a small target in Thursday's semi-final against South Africa, but India would underestimate Australia at their own peril.
In Adam Zampa they have a potent leg-spinner with 22 wickets in the tournament and a three-pronged pace attack finally firing on all cylinders after a stellar show against South Africa.
Glenn Maxwell can bat any team out of contention, as he did with his outrageous double century against Afghanistan and 40-ball 100 against the Netherlands.
India's coach Rahul Dravid was part of the squad that was blown away by Australia in the 2003 final.
Australia also beat India in the final of the World Test Championship final earlier this year and skipper Cummins cannot wait to try and lead them to a second global title despite little support from the stands.
"It's going to be packed, pretty one-sided I reckon, so you just have to embrace it," Cummins said.
"It's going to be a special final."
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
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