The World Cup concluded in a comedy of errors, far from edifying for the image of a game trying hard to expand its reach. When the final was stopped due to bad light, Sri Lanka were 206 for seven after 33 overs, chasing a revised target of 269 runs from 36 overs. (The original target was 282 runs off 38 overs.)
Australia thought they had won on the Duckworth/Lewis system, and started celebrating their feat of having achieved a hat-trick of World Cup titles.
Glenn McGrath even picked up a stump as souvenir from what was his last international match.
Soon, however, all the stumps were back in place, the field-restriction circles were redrawn, and the last three overs were played out in near darkness.
The captains later said that match officials had told them that 36 overs had to be completed at any cost. If it was too dark to play, the three remaining overs would have to be bowled the following day.
Thus Ricky Ponting and Mahela Jayawardene chose to return to the field. But since there was no way Sri Lanka could overhaul the target of 269 in the remaining overs, the two captains reached an understanding.
Only the Australian spinners — not the pacemen — would bowl, while the Sri Lankan batsmen would merely block.
"I actually thought (umpire) Aleem Dar was joking when he told us we would have to come and bowl three overs the next day," said Ponting.
Jaywardene was equally stunned: "Common sense said play was not possible. We played as a goodwill gesture, since the umpires told us to."
Match referee Jeff Crowe owned up responsibility for the confusion caused. But he too did not explain why those last three overs had been insisted upon.
The match could easily have been declared closed after 33 overs because both sides had completed the minimum requirement of playing 20 overs each and it was indeed too dark to sight the ball clearly.
"The first time the light was offered to the batsmen (after about 30 overs), they declined. The second time, they accepted it (after 33 overs). Technically, that should have been the end of the match. We made a mistake in asking the teams to come back the next day... It was collective mistake and I take responsibility," said Crowe.
It was already past 6 pm on a cloudy day and there was no question of the light improving. The authorities had six minutes — between the time when play was called off after 33 overs and the restart of the match — for a re-think. "That was another mistake," Crowe mumbled.
Jayawardene said they had accepted defeat on the D/L system. "The light was insufficient even earlier but we carried on, hoping we could go for a win," he said. "After 33 overs, when light was offered, we took it, seeing there was no way we could win."
Even the umpires could not have thought otherwise. But after a discussion between the umpires on the field, Dar and Steve Bucknor, and third umpire Rudi Koertzen, it was conveyed to the captains that the three remaining overs would have to be bowled on Sunday. This would have been meaningless.
"I must clarify that there was no need to bowl those overs on the next day," Crowe said, adding to the confusion. "The whole question of resumption came up because of a confusion between the three umpires and as head of the unit, I apologise for it."
Ponting found the whole thing amusing. "We had premature celebrations, it must have been funny for fans back home," he said. Jayawardene did not. "Playing three overs without purpose in a World Cup final was unexpected," he said.
Oddly enough, there has been no proper explanation from the International Cricket Council (ICC) for the fiasco. No wonder that the ICC president Percy Sonn and chief executive Malcolm Speed were jeered at when they came to the dais for the prize-distribution function.