Anand Vasu is a former associate editor at Cricinfo
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Australia missed Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie only in spirit as they routed India by 125 runs to win the World Cup for a historic third time. The mischievous smile rarely left Ricky Ponting's boyish face as he led from the front, playing the innings of his life for an unbeaten 140 that powered Australia to 359/2 from 50 overs. In the face of great pressure chasing 360, India were given fleeting glimpses of hope by Virender Sehwag (82) and the rain, but succumbed to 234 all out in 39.2 overs.
Without losing a single game on their way, Australia stamped their authority on world cricket. The mantle rested easily on Steve Waugh's shoulders, and Ponting can now tell the world that he has lived up to every expectation Australian fans would have had.
For the Indians a much cherished dream came crashing down to earth at the Wanderers. With no player having experience of being in a final as big as this, their bowlers appeared nervous and jerky after their captain gave them first use of the conditions. Zaheer Khan, charged up, oozed nervous energy as he charged in and delivered a 15-run over to get the game under way, accompanied by a few kind words to Adam Gilchrist.
The best time to have a cheeky word with aggressive Australian batsmen is when they are walking back to the pavilion, not when they've just played and missed. Showing the stomach for a big fight, Gilchrist proceeded to tear the Indian bowling apart.
He telegraphed his intentions early on, crashing the first ball of the third over, delivered by Zaheer Khan, to the long-off fence. From then on, there was no stopping him. Srinath, in particular, was treated severely, walloped for five fours and a six before he was taken off the attack. At the other end, Hayden was circumspect, getting his eye in and playing second fiddle.
After Gilchrist had piled misery on the experienced Srinath and raw Zaheer Khan alike, Ganguly was forced to turn to his only spinner in just the 10th over.
It paid dividends soon enough. Having slowed a touch after reaching his half-century off just 40 balls, Gilchrist attempted to heave Harbhajan over midwicket. With two fielders in the deep, there was little margin for error. The extra bounce from Harbhajan ensured that Gilchrist was beaten; the top edge swirling high towards midwicket where Sehwag held on to a well-judged catch.
India had their first breakthrough, with Gilchrist gone for 57 (48 balls, 8 fours, 1 six) in the 14th over. While he would have been disappointed at falling against the run of play, he could take heart from the fact that he put Australia right on top with his contribution in a better-than-run-a-ball 105-run partnership for the first wicket.
As is so often the case in one-dayers, one wicket paved the way for another. The fall of Gilchrist slowed things down considerably and not a single boundary was struck in the 5.5 over spell it took for the second Aussie wicket to fall.
Extracting big turn from the damp spots on the wicket, Harbhajan got a ball to turn square from outside the leg and Hayden (37, 54 balls, 5 fours) could only manage a faint edge to wicketkeeper Rahul Dravid. Australia were 125/2, one ball shy of the 20-over mark.
India savoured their twin strikes, and it was a good thing they did, for they was little else to celebrate on the day.
What Gilchrist and Hayden did, Ponting and Damien Martyn did better. They batted India out of the game with a belligerent 234-run partnership in 30.1 overs that powered Australia to a mammoth 359/2, the highest-ever score in a World Cup final. The bowling was well short of even being tidy - they conceded as many as 37 extras - and paid the price.
You can't help but feel for Srinath, who might well have played his last one-dayer for India. After all, who wants to end a career with the figures of 10-0-87-0 in a World Cup final?
For the Indian seamers, who have done a sterling job all series, the final proved the moment when the law of averages caught up with them, along with a determined batting line-up.
Using the launchpad afforded them by Gilchrist's early burst, Ponting and Martyn took time to play themselves in. Once they did, there was no holding back. Australia's captain showed the world exactly what he was capable of perpetrating, hitting eight sixes and four fours in a 121-ball 140. He unveiled an array of pull shots, sending his sixes sailing into the stands in the arc from midwicket to square leg.
Martyn, while not playing the breathtaking shots that Ponting essayed, scored at a fast clip while every now and then unveiling the kind of delicate artistry that would have classicists purring with delight. A back-foot cover drive that sailed over the ropes showed a sense of timing that few in the world of cricket can match. With 88 off just 84 balls in a World Cup final, Martyn can be well pleased with his effort.
At the end of the Ponting-Martyn assault, Australia had 359/2 in 50 overs.
Drawing deep into the resources of a well of optimism and hope, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag walked out to attempt to make this World Cup final the greatest ever by pulling off a sensational win.
One can only imagine the pressure piled onto the shoulders of Tendulkar as he stared down the wicket to Glenn McGrath first up. After pulling him unconvincingly to the midwicket fence off the fourth ball, Tendulkar tried to repeat the shot off the very next ball. The extra bounce beat him and the resultant top edge bobbed straight up in the air for McGrath to catch in his follow-through.
The Australians had the big wicket they wanted; Tendulkar was back in the pavilion and a mere four runs were on the board. For most Indian fans, hope took a beating as the man who scored 673 runs in this World Cup was back in the pavilion.
Ganguly (24) did his best to keep up the run rate, but fell to the pace of Brett Lee in the 10th over. Just three balls later, Mohammad Kaif was back in the hut for a duck and India were reeling at 59/3.
From there on India did their best to keep up the pace, but were flagging when the skies opened and rain poured down at the Wanderers, threatening yet another twist in the tale with India on 103/3 in 17 overs. Even this rate was possible only as Ponting turned to his slow bowlers, in order to get through the overs. Brad Hogg and Darren Lehmann were introduced early and Sehwag went after both. Three consecutive boundaries off Lehmann in the 14th over got the Indian fans in the ground on their feet.
Hogg too got a taste of the action, going for a four over cover and a six over long on off the third and fourth balls of the 15th over.
When play resumed with the threat of rain gone, Ponting went back to his strike bowlers and they delivered the goods.
While Sehwag kept the hopes of Indian fans up with good clean hits, the asking rate kept climbing. The sheer volume of runs required meant that scoring at a run a ball did nothing to arrest the steady climb of the required run rate. Dravid, meanwhile, played foil to Sehwag, nudging singles and attempting to keep the scoreboard ticking over and the strike rotating. Ones and twos, however, were never going to be enough and soon Sehwag began to feel the pressure.
Using his range of strokes, Sehwag thumped a couple of pulls, a slog-sweep and an extra-cover drive for three fours and six. Reaching 82 off just 81 balls, he probably had the Duckworth/Lewis target in mind as he attempted a suicidal run in the 24th over. Driving Bichel firmly to mid off, Sehwag set off for a single and was well short of his crease when Darren Lehmann's throw nailed the stumps at the non-striker's end. Sehwag's 10 boundaries and three sixes brought much joy to Indian fans.
Dravid (47) played a dogged hand and Yuvraj Singh made a brisk 24, but neither could do anything to stop Australia's march.
Wickets fell at regular intervals, shared almost equally between all the bowlers and India's resistance was cut short on 234 in 39.2 overs. While Ganguly might rue his decision to bowl first, you can't help but feel that Australia were simply too good on the day. And yes, on every other day they walked out to play cricket in their successful 2003 World Cup campaign.