The defending champions played scintillating cricket to win the World Cup with 11 wins on the trot. If they encountered problems on a few occasions they came through each time through a brilliant contribution from an individual. They lost Shane Warne before a ball was bowled as he flunked a dope test — caught for two diuretics his mother may have given for him to lose weight — and Jason Gillespie from injury. They took such losses in their stride, beginning with a win over Pakistan, their opponents in the previous World Cup final.
A colourful World Cup hosted by the rainbow nation south Africa, however, had several grey shades of politics with New Zealand and England boycotting visits to Kenya and Zimbabwe respectively. More teams — 14, and more matches — 54, made this an extended World Cup that yielded the phenomenal profit of $149 million as compared to $51 million in England 1999. The format just did not, however, seem right and too many things went wrong, including for South Africa which, along with Kenya and Zimbabwe, hosted the event.
South Africa went tumbling out of the competition, not choking but in the craziest manner imaginable as they matched the Duckworth Lewis par score in the chase against Sri Lanka. Mark Boucher blocked the next ball thinking they had already won. Someone had not differentiated between the par score and the par plus one run needed to win. Ironically, Lance Klusener was in the middle at the finish this time too, though not on strike. An extended league was not without its highs, the best coming from the borrowed Australian John Davison who made the World Cup’s fastest century off 67 balls and starred in Canada’s victory over the West Indies.
India were not on the boil at the start, just about beating Holland after a poor batting display and were wiped out by Australia in the next game. An incensed India turned upon its Men in Blue and Ganguly and Kaif’s homes were stoned. Team India were to hit their straps after the drubbing to win the next eight games on the trot, including their finest triumph over Pakistan at the Centurion where Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag toyed with Shoaib Akhtar who had earlier bowled cricket’s first recorded 100 mph ball, against England.
India had it easy in the semi-final against Kenya with Sachin (83) and Sourav (111) shining in 270-4 before Kenya were out for 179.
Sourav’s decision to bowl first in the final was not universally appreciated. Gilchrist and Hayden rattled off 74 in nine overs and India was soon relying on spin as its pace attack had failed to dent the Aussies. It was a Ponting show from there on as he built up to 50 and then slammed his way to 140*, a record score in a final with Damien Martyn keeping him company.
Chasing 360 for win, India lost all hope as the World Cup top scorer — Sachin Tendulkar (673 runs) — topedged a pull off McGrath’s fifth ball to be caught by the bowler. Australia’s compellingly destructive cricket proved too much as India went down by 125 runs.
The champions had raised the bar in a superlative performance and India were second best.