World Cup final over before it had truly begun
A defensive decision followed by 10 nervous deliveries from Zaheer Khan effectively decided the destiny of the 2003 cricket World Cup final before the match had properly begun.Updated: Dec 27, 2003 19:22 IST
A defensive decision followed by 10 nervous deliveries from Zaheer Khan effectively decided the destiny of the 2003 cricket World Cup final before the match had properly begun.
Defending champions Australia had looked a class above the remainder of the field from the start of an over-long tournament staged in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
India looked the best of the rest and they also possessed the world's leading batsman in Sachin Tendulkar, who was to be named the player of the tournament.
If any lesson had been learned from Australia's total domination of the five-day and one-day game in the opening years of the 21st century, it had been the necessity to fight fire with fire.
Yet after much brave pre-match talk, Saurav Ganguly showed what he really thought after winning the toss on a bright morning.
Ganguly opted to bat second, handing the Australians an initiative which they seized gratefully.
Bristling with aggression, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden took 15 runs from a protracted opening over from left-armer Khan.
Ganguly was forced to turn to off-spinner Harbhajan Singh in the 10th over as Australia begun to rewrite the record books.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting had come into the match after a record 16-match winning streak. He arrived at the crease after the 100 had come up in only the 14th over to play one of the most explosive innings ever witnessed in one-day cricket.
Hailing from a nation specialising in quick-footed batsmen, Ponting is a Njinsky among contemporaries.
After a perfunctory settling-in period, he danced down the pitch to strike Harbhajan for consecutive sixes over long-on, the second of which flew out of the ground.
Ganguly had no answers as Ponting lofted eight sixes in an unbeaten innings of 140, the highest score in a World Cup final.
Australia raced to a World Cup record 359 for two from 50 overs and the only question remaining was their likely victory margin.
India, whose fans dominated the picturesque Wanderers' ground, had one last glimmer of hope. The late Don Bradman, Australia's greatest cricketer, had given Tendulkar the ultimate accolade when he said the diminutive Indian was the player he thought most resembled him in style.
Accordingly, after the mid-innings interval spectators settled back in their seats to watch Brett Lee, the world's fastest bowler, take on Tendulkar.
The anticipated clash never materialised.
Tendulkar savagely pulled Glenn McGrath's fourth ball for four and the Indian section of the ground erupted. He tried the same shot off the next delivery but this time the ball hit the splice. McGrath all but pushed his team mates out of the way to claim the simple return match.
Virender Sehwag stroked 82 from 81 balls in an innings both entertaining and ultimately irrelevant as India succumbed to 234 all out from 39.2 overs.
A spectacular thunder and lightning storm over Johannesburg illuminated the closing ceremony as Ponting became the third Australian to accept the World Cup. On that day and in that form it was difficult to imagine anybody ever beating his team.
First Published: Dec 27, 2003 19:22 IST