Final - 2003 World Cup

Australia v India

John Stern

At Johannesburg, March 23, 2003. Australia won by 125 runs. Toss: India.

Ricky Ponting played a captain's innings to deliver Australia their third title. His 140, the highest individual score in a World Cup final, and his leadership through the tournament completed his ascent from under-achieving Tasmanian devil to cornerstone of Australian dominance.

Just like Nasser Hussain at Brisbane a few months earlier, Ganguly raised eyebrows by putting Australia in. He was acting from fear of Australia's bowlers rather than on aggressive intent: against any other opponents, he would surely have batted first. Yet it had been 71 matches and three years since Australia last failed to defend a total of 200 or more.

Ganguly was right to think that the pitch would offer movement and bounce, but his in-form seamers were now under pressure to perform. They buckled. The first overfrom Zaheer Khan contained ten deliveries and 15 runs, and there was no coming back. Gilchrist and Hayden chanced their arms, as they do: after nine overs, Australia were 74 without loss. "Intent and intimidate - that has been our motto," said Ponting afterwards. The grammar was dubious; the effectiveness beyond question.

Ganguly turned to spin in the tenth over, and Harbhajan Singh did send back both openers. But Australia were not reined in for long. The partnership of 234 between Ponting and Martyn was Australia's highest for any wicket in one-day internationals. So was their total. Martyn's performance was the more remarkable because he had missed the semi-final with a finger injury and was not expected to play. His batting was the perfect foil for Ponting - selfless, intelligent and perfectly tuned to the situation. Martyn actually reached his fifty first, despite a six-over handicap. Ponting was just warming up. He started slowly, his first 50 taking 74 balls to Martyn's 46, and containing a single four. Off his next 47 balls, he scored 90 runs and hit three more fours and eight sixes - the most in a World Cup innings, beating seven by Viv Richards and Ganguly - all on the leg side.

The gear-change occurred when Harbhajan returned in the 39th over. Ponting completed his fifty with a single - then hit him out of the attack with two successive sixes over mid-wicket. Harbhajan was replaced by Nehra; Ponting responded with a remarkable one-handed slog-sweep off a low full toss that also disappeared over midwicket. Off the penultimate ball of the innings, he drove Srinath for six over long-on into the second deck of the stand at the Golf Course End. Australia's acceleration had been breathtaking: 109 off the last ten overs, 64 off the last five. Srinath conceded 87 runs, the most in a final.

The army of Indian supporters - many from the UK - had been bemused when Ganguly asked Australia to bat. By the interval, they had all but given up hope. The dream was shattered entirely when Tendulkar tried to pull McGrath's fifth ball and was caught by the bowler off a top edge. Sehwag, who was caught off a Lee no-ball on four, did his best to keep India in it with a bullish run-a-ball 82, including ten fours and three sixes. But he was run out by a direct hit from Lehmann at deep mid-off, ending a promising stand of 88 with Dravid.

Rain had briefly threatened the unsatisfactory prospect of a replay the following day, with Australia's record-breaking performances consigned to history - so every sign of precipitation was greeted uproariously by India's fans. Knowing his side had to bowl 25 overs to ensure a result, Ponting brought on his spinners: there was a surreal period where Hogg and Lehmann were being thrashed to all parts as Indian supporters cheered and the fielders, running to their positions to speed up the over-rate, got wet. Then the umpires called a drinks break. After drinks, Bichel and McGrath returned, the lights came on, and the rain became heavy enough for the players to leave the field, with India on 103 for three. They returned 25 minutes later - no overs were deducted - and the formality of Australia's third World Cup (and 17th consecutive one-day victory) was completed under darkening skies to the sound of frequent thunderclaps.

Man of the Match: R. T. Ponting. Attendance: 31,827.
Man of the Tournament: S. R. Tendulkar.

© John Wisden & Co