Being a die-hard Indian cricket fan, I generally don’t like to write about matches featuring an Indian loss. But then if that match is a World Cup final, then it is worth remembering despite the loss. After all, it’s not every day that a team reaches a World Cup final.
For the records, in the 2003 World Cup; the Indian team had reached the finals of the ODI World Cup after a gap of 20 years. Prior to this, they had a perfect win record in World Cup finals (having reached it only once before in 1983). They had been beaten only once in the tournament by the Australian team, a team which turned out to be their nemesis once again in the finals.
The Australians, on the other hand were playing their fifth World Cup final and had lifted the trophy twice before. They had been unbeaten so far in this edition of the World Cup in South Africa. And not to forget, were also the defending champions.
The euphoria before the match
Most people said that the two best teams were up against each other in the final. While that statement might have been true, Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly, who was going to lead for the 100th time in an ODI; knew that he had the toughest of tasks at hand.
Known for giving the Aussies a taste of their own medicine, Ganguly had said that although the Australians were the best side in the world they were not unbeatable. As expected a lot of statements were being made prior to the match. Australian captain Ricky Pointing had famously said that his bowlers, Brett Lee and Glen McGrath had special plans to restrict Sachin Tendulkar who was the tournament’s top-scorer.
So if big plans were being made in the African country, back home the Indian fans were not to be left behind. Few privileged ones had made plans to fly to Johannesburg to watch the match live, while millions of others were praying to watch an Indian captain lift the World Cup.
In fact Industrialist Vijay Mallya also called as the “King of Good Times” had organised special flights, including few chartered ones for the film stars, politicians and businessmen to Johannesburg.
The ten ball opening over
Coming back to the match, Ganguly won the toss and asked the Australians to bat first; a decision which was criticised by many later on. The ball was in the hands of Zaheer Khan, who with 18 wickets and an economy rate of 4.23 had been India’s best bowler in the tournament so far.
He began with a no-ball but followed it up with a good next ball which Adam Gilchrist missed. Zaheer ensured that he gave a good stare to Gilchrist. After giving two runs off the next delivery which was also a no-ball, Zaheer got Gilchrist to edge one for a single through the vacant gully area.
That single brought Matthew Hayden on strike, who played and missed the next ball. A pumped up Zaheer gave some words of advice to Hayden on his follow through. And when Hayden defended the next ball, it looked to be a normal first over.
That’s when hell broke. Zaheer probably bowled one of the widest wides in the history of ODIs which ended up at the boundary. Taking advantage of the pressure on Zaheer, Hayden dispatched the next delivery to long-off boundary.
Zaheer bowled another wide before ending an over in which he bowled ten deliveries and conceded 15 runs.
A partnership which took the game away from the Indians
Within no time, the Australians had cruised to 100 runs within the first 15 overs courtesy mainly to Glichrist’searly onslaught. Harbhajan Singh, who with an economy rate of 3.92 had been India’s most economical bowler in the tournament tried to bring India back in the game with two quick wickets.
He got rid of both the openers and had the Australian score in a reasonable check at 125-2 in the 20th over. That was, however, the beginning of the end in terms of joy for India in the field. For the next 30 overs, Harbhajan and the other Indian bowlers went wicketless.
Australia scored 234 runs in these overs and took their total to 359-2 at the end of 50 overs. Ponting scored 140 runs off just 121 deliveries and Damien Martyn scored 88 runs from 84 balls.
Indians used as many as eight bowlers but were unable to contain the carnage.
Even “God” fails revive India’s chances
At the break, Indians knew that Sachin Tendulkar was the only person who could have brought back their team back in the match. I distinctly remember that I had gone out to a shop downstairs to get something and was hoping to be back before the end of the first over. When I heard a loud noise, I knew Sachin had hit a boundary. Unfortunately for me and the entire nation that was the only boundary we saw from Sachin’s bat on that fateful day.
By the time I came back home, both Sachin and with him, India’s hopes of winning the final were back in the pavilion. Though the team had other good batsmen like Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh among others, they were still depending on their number one batsman to get them out of trouble.
So, when the little master miscued a pull off the fifth ball of the Indian innings and handed an easy catch to McGrath; many television sets in India were shut down. It was as though there was a power outage in India. I had my board exams going on and immediately I was ordered to get back to studies by my parents.
Delaying the inevitable
From then on, as far as the Indian fans were concerned; it was merely a matter of delaying the inevitable. Though Sehwag did try to give the Australians a fight, it was only for a brief period.
He along with Rahul Dravid put together 88 runs for the fourth wicket before Sehwag fell for 82. The Indian innings eventually came to an end on the second ball of the 40th over and India lost the match by 125 runs. With that India had lost the match and chance to win the World Cup.
Incidentally, India had also scored 125 runs in their first encounter against the men from down under in the World Cup.
As expected, a lot of postmortems was done for the loss. Some blamed it on Ganguly’s decision to bowl first as chasing in a World Cup finals is always a challenging task.
Few others were at Zaheer’s neck for his first over. Personally, I felt it was too much to put the blame entirely on Zaheer as a match of 100 overs can’t be decided by the outcome of just one.
In my opinion, it was just one of those days when nothing clicked for India. The Australians were the better team on the day and probably in the entire tournament.
Years later on Ganguly summed it up perfectly when he said, “We had a fantastic team in the 2003 World Cup. But, Australia was undoubtedly a cut above the rest. We played 11 games in the tournament and lost only two games - both against Australia.”