WORLD Cup 2003 was a story of anticipation and agony for India. The tournament, the first to be held in Africa, was co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. India were, as always, followed by their legion of fans and by the time the final was played, entire South Africa was awash with Team India colours.
But sadly, for all of them, Australia were just too seasoned and their experience of playing finals made a telling difference as India could only offer very limited resistance in the title match. This is also the only time till now when India have reached the final and not lifted the trophy. But this was a side that excited all fans and kept them all clued in right through the tournament, but fell agonisingly short of their aim.
This was the biggest tournament to date with 14 teams participating. Apart from the 10 Test-playing nations, co-hosts Kenya were joined by Canada, Namibia and the Netherlands. With so many teams in the fray, this was also the tournament with the biggest number of matches as 54 games were played.
India were in Pool A with Australia, England, Namibia, the Netherlands, eternal rivals Pakistan and co-hosts Zimbabwe and ended the seven-team league in second position on points, behind Australia.
India’s Dodgy League Run
India couldn’t have asked for an easier opener when they met the Netherlands at Paarl on February 12 but their performance was not the best. It took a 52 from Sachin Tendulkar and contributions from Nayan Mongia (42) and Yuvraj Singh (27) to carry them to 204 off 48.5 overs. But Javagal Srinath (4/30) and Anil Kumble (4/32) were too hot to handle for the Dutch and they folded up for 136.
Worse was to come when India were absolutely walloped by Australia in their next match. Tendulkar again top-scored with 36 and Harbhajan Singh scored 28 as India were bundled out for 125, with Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie claiming three wickets each. Australia cantered home to a nine-wicket win.
But things then looked up as India beat Zimbabwe and Namibia and then got the better of England, riding on Ashish Nehra’s sensational 6/23.
India batted first at Durban and Tendulkar got another half-century (50) while Rahul Dravid top-scored with 62. Virender Sehwag, promoted to opener, got some useful runs as did Dinesh Mongia and Yuvraj Singh as India tallied 250/9 off 50 overs.
Nehra then waded into the English batting with a career-best wicket haul as they were sent packing for 168. Nehra’s victims included Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain, Paul Collingwood, Alec Stewart, Craig White and Ronnie Irani. By far the best World Cup show by any Indian bowler.
Pakistan Lose Again
India-Pakistan matches in World Cups have always been one-way traffic and this time was no different. India once more were on the winning side in their contest at Centurion on March 1.
Saeed Anwar, always a thorn in India’ side, once again was on the job with a century but got little support as Pakistan managed only 237/7 off 50 overs.
Tendulkar then hammered 98 off just 73 balls and Yuvraj (50 not out), Dravid (44 not out) and Sehwag (21) ensured an easy Indian win and vital points.
Sensations And Disasters
The tournament was a story of Kenya’s sensational entry into the semi-finals, as also of co-host South Africa’s inability to decipher the Duckworth-Lewis rain rule and crashing out of the tournament in that legendary match with Sri Lanka in Durban, when they needed one more run to win but ended with a tie after everyone in the South African camp misread the D/L run requirement. The nation was stunned as their team was washed away with the Durban rain.
Other disasters included England, Pakistan and the West Indies too crashing out in the league stage.
India met Kenya in their semi-final in Cape Town and skipper Sourav Ganguly finally got some runs with and unbeaten 107 as India chased down the 225-run target rather comfortably but not before India were reduced to 3/24. Dravid (32) and Yuvraj (58 not out) then kept Ganguly company as India made it to their second World Cup final.
Australia were in fearsome form against Sri Lanka in what was quite a revenge match for the 1996 final. Ricky Ponting hammered 114 off 109 balls while Adam Gilchrist was run out at 99. Damien Martyn chipped in with 52 as the Aussies scored 319/5.
Sri Lanka were decimated Lee, Glann McGrath and Brad Hogg and only Aravinda de Silva (92) could offer any resistance as they went down by 96 runs.
Final Agony For India
Australia, who had witnessed star spinner Shane Warne being expelled from the tournament on drug abuse charges even before a ball was bowled, were again in the final and they had to contend with a chock-a-block Wanderers Stadium at Johannesburg on March 23 as they took on crowd favourites India. But the Australians were way more professional in their approach as India succumbed to the hype and pressure and it ended up being a one-sided affair.
Ponting once again led the batting assault with 140 runs off 121 deliveries after Gilchrist (57) and Matthew Hayden (37) had got them off to a flying start. Martyn contributed 88 not out of 84 deliveries as only Harbhajan Singh (2/49) had anything to offer in terms of resistance.
Sehwag’s 82 went in vain as India were never in the game. Dravid (47), Ganguly and Yuvraj (24 each) were not able to find enough support and India went down by a massive 125 runs.
India would have to wait another eight years to see another final. But that was a whole different story.