Ponting & Martyn put it beyond Indians

It was a big game and the occasion was big as well. The pressure too was big and the big team won it in the end. Australia, unbeatable, unrelenting, professional as ever, retained the World Champion title.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

The Aussies are over the moon, after their thumping win over India. Australia's 359 for two is the highest score in a World Cup final. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

It was a big game and the occasion was big as well. The pressure too was big and the big team won it in the end. Australia, unbeatable, unrelenting, professional as ever, retained the World Champion title. The team was well versed in the art of translating its potential into awesome display on the field. The victory in the ICC Cricket World Cup, at The Wanderers, once again showed the team's all-round superiority.

Sourav Ganguly felt that the bowlers did not put the ball in the right place. True. But it was also true that Ricky Ponting knew the right places to dispatch the ball. In an innings of great character that flattened the hopes of the Indian, Ponting led from the front. Australia carried enough ammunition to blow off the Indians.

It was a one-sided affair and certainly an anti-climax after the mind-blowing hype that preceded India's entry into the final, its first after the epic 1983 triumph. The expectations were high because the team had won eight matches in a canter and the form of Sachin Tendulkar, Man of the Tournament, was great. But ulti<147,3,1>mately all these were not enough to stop the mighty Australians, who made a mockery of the final by a handsome victory.

As Ponting said, the victory spoke a lot for the character and depth of Australian cricket. There was no place for the Waugh brothers and the team had been rocked by the Shane Warne episode at the very start of championship. And then it lost the wily Jason Gillespie. The team, which derived enough strength from its reservoir, became the first side in the history of the championship to win three titles.

Ponting was delighted. "It means a lot to us. It says a lot for Australian cricket's strength of character. It says a lot for its depth overall. We were tested at this World Cup right through. The injuries and the Warne issue were setbacks. But I'm glad that the replacements did well. Guys like (Andy) Bichel and (Andrew) Symonds had a sensational World Cup. It was not that they performed at a decent level. They performed at the highest level and that speaks a lot for them.''

Australia was clinical in every term. First it amassed an imposing target and then never lost its nerve. Rain threatened to force a Duckworth-Lewis finish, but Ponting did not lose his focus at any stage. "Clouds circling the ground was a worry and it would've been a shame if rain had spoilt the game. We were fortunate that the rain held off,'' Ponting recalled those few tense moments in the Australian dressing room.

It would have been tragic if Ponting had not ended up a winner. His innings was a gem, played with utmost dedication. "It was a most satisfying effort. I'm happy I could do it when it mattered. It was a very special innings in a big game. It was my best by a mile,'' the Aussie skipper shared his thoughts on his 13th one-day century.

The Australians were winning their 17th match in succession. And it was quite on their expected lines really. Many factors went into the contributing towards the Australian supremacy and as Ponting observed, the support from various quarters counted. "I must thank the support staff who made everything so smooth for us. It is very special to win 17 matches in a row and I see no reason why we can't keep it going.''

The Indians were outclassed. The Australians got off to a great start and then Ponting took over the charge with Damien Martyn, who played an outstanding support role. Their partnership took the game away from India after Ganguly chose to bowl first. "I've no regrets for fielding first. There was a bit in the pitch in the morning but the bowlers just couldn't put the ball in the right spot. Maybe they were overcharged. It was a big stage and we started off with a poor first over. But the bowlers kept going after that and it just didn't stop at any stage,'' bemoaned the India skipper.

Ganguly acknowledged the Aussie supremacy. "We lost to a side which was much superior to us on the day of the match. We had our gains. We played as a unit and that was the key as far as I was concerned. The young players in the team stood up to the pressure and that was quite commendable.''

The Indians had a gigantic task. It needed a big innings from Sachin Tendulkar, but the master failed. "I'm extremely disappointed. We had a fair chance in the morning after we won the toss but the bowlers had an off day. I would've been happier (with the Man of the Tournament award) if we had lifted the trophy,'' said a dejected Tendulkar, unable to hide the pain of defeat.

Tendulkar admitted it was always going to be difficult to scale the Aussie target. "The batsmen played an important role for Australia. (Adam) Gilchrist and (Mathew) Hayden gave them a good start. I think the last 15 overs proved critical because we conceded too many runs (143). Ponting really took off in the last 15 overs. It was a quite a bit. I think it was easily one of the best I've seen,'' said Tendulkar.

Ponting, on his behalf, also praised Tendulkar for being the Man of the Tournament. "He's an outstanding cricketer. A great batsman, miles ahead of the rest. He normally saves his best for the Australia but we were lucky to get him today.''

Assessing the Indian team's performance in the World Cup, Tendulkar pointed out "we played as a team and that was a big gain.''

The Australians ended up worthy winners. The comprehensive margin of victory showed the difference between the teams and as Australia coach John Buchanan pointed out "we need to improve more in terms of tactics and technical skills. There are a lot of things we can do. We do things better than most and more consistently.''

Doing it consistently was the key, and Ponting's team proved that it was miles ahead of the rest.

It was a complete team and the best equipped to retain the title it won in a similar one-sided affair at the Lord's four years ago.

A place in the history was the best reward for Ponting who led his side brilliantly. Australia's unbeaten run in the World Cup in South Africa was easily the highlight of the championship, but not to forget the wonderful batting from Sachin Tendulkar.

The scores:

Australia: Adam Gilchrist c Sehwag b Harbhajan 57; Matthew Hayden c Dravid b Harbhajan 37; Ricky Ponting (not out) 140; Damien Martyn (not out) 88; Extras: (2b, 12lb, 7nb, 16w) 37; Total (for two wkts. in 50 overs) 359.

Fall of wickets: 1-105, 2-125.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 7-0-67-0, Javagal Srinath 10-0-87-0, Ashish Nehra 10-0-57-0, Harbhajan Singh 8-0-49-2 Virender Sehwag 3-0-14-0, Sachin Tendulkar 3-0-20-0, Dinesh Mongia 7-0-39-0, Yuvraj Singh 2-0-12-0.

India: Sachin Tendulkar c and b McGrath 4; Virender Sehwag (run out — Lehmann) 82; Sourav Ganguly c Lehmann b Lee 24 ; Mohammad Kaif c Gilchrist b McGrath 0 ; Rahul Dravid b Bichel 47; Yuvraj Singh c Lee b Hogg 24; Dinesh Mongia c Martyn b Symonds 12; Harbhajan Singh c McGrath b Symonds 7; Zaheer Khan c Lehmann b McGrath 4; Javagal Srinath b Lee 1; Ashish Nehra (not out) 8; Extras: (4b, 4lb, 4nb, 9w) 21; Total (in 39.2 overs) 234.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-58, 3-59, 4-147, 5-187, 6-288, 7-209, 8-223, 9-226.

Australia bowling: Glenn McGrath 8.2-0-52-3, Brett Lee 7-1-31-2, Brad Hogg 10-0-61-1, Darren Lehmann 2-0-18-0, Andy Bichel 10-0-57-1, Andrew Symonds 2-0-7-2.