There might have been one-day matches that have ebbed and flowed with more regularity and have produced more exciting finishes. Whether that mattered to a capacity crowd who enjoyed a perfect summers day and a perfect one-day match has to be dismissed as of no consequence. India and England battled it out like a couple of heavyweights trading punch for punch. Any one of three results was possible going into the final over, but it was India who triumphed by two wickets with three balls to spare. It was riveting entertainment.
After England had won the toss, Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight began in a very positive frame of mind by taking the attack to the Indian bowlers from the outset. Trescothick was his usual dominant self, while Knight was still struggling for the touch that has made him a feared opponent in the past. His timing and composure were not quite there as he took 29 balls to reach 14 at which point he played horribly round a full toss from Zaheer Khan to be bowled.
Hussain came in at the fall of the wicket and needed to do no more for a while than watch Trescothick flay the bowling. The Somerset man brought up the fifty by flicking Khan for six over mid-wicket and reached his own fifty from 40 balls with four boundaries added to that six.
Sourav Ganguly was forced to bring the spinners on earlier than he might have wanted, but they met with no more success than the opening bowlers. Hussain was finding trouble in establishing any sort of fluency in his batting, but the arrival of Ganguly himself in the attack signalled the start of an assault from Hussain that was not necessarily pretty to watch but was thoroughly effective in raising the scoring rate at just the time it was needed.
With a combination of elegant strokes, agricultural swings and not a little good fortune, the batsmen plundered 28 runs from Ganguly's three overs, during which he also got an official warning for running down the pitch. It allowed Hussain to settle in, even if he did not curb his extravagant attack that would undoubtedly have been tagged as reckless had it not succeeded. Meanwhile, Trescothick continued imperiously by hoisting Harbhajan Singh over mid-wicket for another six with a slog-sweep, in the modern argot. Such an effortless and controlled shot deserves a better description.
Trescothick appeared intent on a century from the start of the innings. He has been in a rich vein of form throughout the series and scarcely put a foot wrong as he reached his hundred from 89 balls with six fours and those two sixes.
Hussain and Trescothick put on 185 for the second wicket from just 177 balls before the opener played a somewhat tired and lazy sweep against Anil Kumble to be bowled. The sweep and slog-sweep had served him well up to that point as he reached his century from 89 balls with six fours and two sixes. It was a superb innings that completely destroyed any pre-conceived bowling plans that India might have had.
Ganguly employed the services of no fewer than seven bowlers, but they all tended to to come alike to the England batsmen. Even the revered spin partnership of Kumble and Harbhajan went for 107 runs in their 20 overs for the meagre return of Trescothick's wicket.
Andrew Flintoff joined Hussain and proceeded to impose himself on the bowling with gusto. He drove one mighty straight six off Harbhajan and if he only found the boundary on two other occasions, he still managed to reach 40 from 32 balls before he missed a full toss from Zaheer Khan who was finding this to be his prime wicket-taking ball.
Hussain plumbed the outer reaches of his repertoire to get to his century and then some. In doing so, he used up much of the good fortune that he was owed after some dreadful decisions against him over the years. He will care not one jot how he got the runs on the board, only that he did. It was his first one-day international century at the 72nd time of asking. It came from 118 balls with seven fours, and as he reached the milestone he turned to the media centre to indicate the number three on the back of his shirt. He had received some criticism from that quarter about his suitability to bat at number three in the order. The magnitude of his innings if not the manner of it should silence that now.
Hussain had time from the remaining ten balls of his innings to add three more boundaries to his tally - one of them a pre-meditated sweep off Ashish Nehra that raced fine toward the pavilion. It was when he tried to do the same again that he was bowled by a very full ball that just bounced before crashing into the stumps.
Michael Vaughan came and went - to the ball after Hussain was out. He picked up Khan towards deep square-leg where Dinesh Mongia held a comfortable catch. So it was left to Paul Collingwood and Ronnie Irani to slog, nudge and scramble their way to a total of 325 - England's fourth highest in one-day internationals and a record for a Lord's final.
The way Ganguly and Virender Sehwag began the Indian innings, there was every chance that record would be broken before the day was out. They gave the England bowlers no time to settle, savaging them from the outset with a series of ferocious strokes. Ganguly raced to a fifty from a mere 35 balls with nine fours and a six over the covers off Flintoff. Sehwag could not keep up with his captain, and nor did he need to, such was the power of Ganguly's strokeplay.
The hundred came up from 80 balls (England's had been from 101) and Ganguly's contribution to the Indian cause extended to hammering a fierce cut through the covers via Hussain's wrist. The England captain withdrew for treatment. Irani came into the attack, but departed after one over costing 16 runs. Hussain returned, so did Alex Tudor and he started the decline in India's fortunes.
Ganguly fashioned an ugly smear to a ball of full length and was bowled. It had been a heroic innings, but its end saw a clatter of wickets just as there had been a clatter of runs. Next over, Sehwag tried to run Ashley Giles to third man and was bowled. Then Mongia was given out caught behind down the leg side off Irani. The point of contention was whether he actually got a touch.
Irani induced Rahul Dravid to chip to Knight at short mid-wicket, and when Sachin Tendulkar made room to be bowled by Giles, there was an overpowering impression that India's brave and exciting challenge might well have ended. Five wickets had fallen in the space of nine overs for the addition of 40 runs. The psychological impact of Tendulkar's wicket could not be overstated - to either team.
Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif are more used to smashing quick runs at the end of an innings, but this time they had a major reconstruction job on their hands. While they went about the task with admirable common sense before opening into more expansive mode.the asking rate had climbed to in excess of eight an over before they stabilised the decline.
Slowly, they brought the required rate back within bounds with some clean hitting of the highest calibre, to say nothing of some adventurous running. They had put on 121 from 106 balls with England getting increasingly nervous. Kaif had just joined Yuvraj on fifty when Yuvraj was out. A top-edged sweep off Collingwood saw the ball loop to Tudor at short fine leg and a terrific innings had come to an end.
Yuvraj was visibly annoyed with himself, being under the impression that, with him, went India's hopes. Kaif and Harbhajan Singh had other ideas. Harbhajan supported while Kaif drove, sliced, carved and nudged with a rare maturity. The balance swung until India held all the aces.
That all changed in the 48th over when Flintoff yorked Harbhajan. Two balls later, Kumble was caught behind and everyone was scanning the regulations to see what happened if the scores finished level. It was that sort of match.
Gough bowled the 49th over, which had left honours even until the last ball when Kaif aimed a drive down the ground. The ball went down the ground, albeit to the other end as it careered down to third man for a boundary.
Two needed off the last over. Flintoff produced two dot balls before Zaheer Khan pushed the third ball into the covers, they went through for the run, the throw came in at the stumps but went past and the batsmen scampered through for the second run that won the match.