The invincible men in yellow

Australia did not lose a single match in the World Cup, and won the final by a handsome margin, writes G. VISWANATH.

Right from the start, Australia was the odds-on favourite to win the World Cup and Ricky Ponting's team lived up to that expectation. The team did not lose a single match in the competition and won the final by a handsome margin.

Ricky Ponting in a punishing mood during the final against India at The Wanderers. The Aussie skipper found his touch at the right time and came up with a sparkling hundred. The Aussies packed a wallop and the Indians surrendered meekly in the final. — Pic. MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES-

Andrew Symonds' brilliant knock against the menacing pace attack of Pakistan at The Wanderers, followed by Andy Bichel's all-round prowess and Brett Lee's hostile pace bowling steered Australia to the final with ease. And captain Ricky Ponting, who was struggling with the bat in the earlier part of the championship, came up with a brilliant knock that sealed India's fate in the final.

India lost to a far superior outfit in the final at The Wanderers on that splendid night. Sourav Ganguly's team prevailed over England and thrashed Pakistan. In fact the South African crowd was a witness to the passion associated with an India-Pakistan contest.

Australia was sailing smoothly, winning nine matches on the trot, with an easy win over India in the preliminary league. The Aussies had a jolt as soon as they landed. Shane Warne had to leave after being banned for using drugs. He departed to Australia without delivering a ball.

But this did not affect Australia's first match against Pakistan as Symonds made an aggressive hundred. Then the team lost the services of fast bowler Jason Gillespie, who had foxed Sachin Tendulkar with a clever change of pace in the encounter at the Centurion.

Being the captain, Ganguly was on the hot seat. As the World Cup approached, the hype around the Indian team soared high.

Andy Bichel is over the moon after getting rid of Nasser Hussain of England in a Pool `A' match. Bichel's all-round show was one of the highlights of Australia's triumph in the 2003 World Cup. — Pic. STU FORSTER/GETTY IMAGES-

The Indian team had a glorious win in the NatWest Series final at Lord's. But the displays against the West Indies in the away and home series were not great. Further, the team received a drubbing at the hands of New Zealand. The Indians in general believed that Ganguly's team, with many young and talented players like Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif in its ranks, had the wherewithal to upset Australia.

Ganguly had gone about the business of identifying the right personnel for the World Cup almost a year before the event was to unfold in Africa. Having undertaken the process of building the team and instilling confidence among the players, Ganguly had reason to take an optimistic view of his team's chances in the World Cup.

Just about everything went right for India and Ganguly after being beaten hollow by Australia in the league phase. The seamers had worked their way to a disciplined line and length. Ashish Nehra flummoxed England at Kingsmead, Durban. The batsmen also found their bearings to score runs aplenty with Sachin Tendulkar in the forefront.

Australia acknowledged India's advancement to the final, but exuded confidence and regarded itself as the favourite to clinch the title for the third time. And once Ganguly invited Ponting to bat and as soon as Zaheer Khan had completed his long first over, the packed house began to get the taste of the mighty Australian batting.

The majority, that included many cricketers, straightaway felt that Ganguly's decision to field was not a right move. Both the captains had mulled over the option before the toss. Ponting and Ganguly left the dressing room opting to field first in the event of winning the toss. But Ponting had changed his mind after having a look at the surface and seeing the blazing sun over The Wanderers. He said later that he would have batted first had he won the toss.

Ashish Nehra jumps for joy after taking the wicket of Craig White of England. The Indian paceman was at his menacing best in this match. — Pic. SHAUN BOTTERILL/GETTY IMAGES-

Once Adam Gilchrist began smashing India's opening attack, the writing on the wall was clear for India. After a bright start, Ponting sustained the momentum and occupied the centrestage. The Indian bowlers suffered heavily and even as Ganguly led his beleaguered team back to the pavilion, the chances of India winning looked bleak.

The Wanderers pitch is generally considered good for batsmen. The Indians had amassed close to 300 runs during their previous visit and Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs scored centuries to make a one-day international match between India and South Africa a high-scoring one. In fact, Symonds had found front foot driving comfortable against the likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram in South African pitches and New Zealand's Stephen Fleming also had a good time with the bat, against the likes of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock.

The decision to bat second must have been the team's collective one. But first and foremost, its plans were defeated by the poor opening spells by the Indian seamers. Adam Gilchrist and Ponting simply blasted the Indian bowlers.