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Cricket World Cup 2003: After The Crescendo, India Fall Short Of Glory

Cricket World Cup 2003: After The Crescendo, India Fall Short Of Glory

For India, the World Cup in 2003 was a narrative of anticipation and misery. The event, Africa's first, was co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. India, as usual, was followed by a legion of followers, and by the time the final was played, the entire South African landscape was awash in Team India colours.

Unfortunately for all of them, Australia was simply too experienced, and their previous experience in finals made a significant difference as India could only give very limited resistance in the title match.

This is also the only time India has reached the final without winning the championship. But here was a team that enthralled supporters and kept them interested throughout the tournament, but ultimately fell far short of their goal.

With 14 teams participating, this was the largest competition to date. Kenya was joined by Canada, Namibia, and the Netherlands in addition to the ten Test-playing nations. With so many teams competing, this was also the competition with the most matches, with 54 games played.

India finished second in points behind Australia in Pool A, which included Australia, England, Namibia, the Netherlands, everlasting nemesis Pakistan, and co-host Zimbabwe.

India’s Dodgy League Run

When India faced the Netherlands in Paarl on February 12, they couldn't have asked for a better opening, but their performance was not stellar. Sachin Tendulkar's 52 and contributions from Nayan Mongia (42) and Yuvraj Singh (27) helped them to 204 off 48.5 overs. However, Javagal Srinath (4/30) and Anil Kumble (4/32) were too hot for the Dutch to handle, as they folded for 136.

Worse was to come as India was completely destroyed by Australia in their next match. Tendulkar top-scored once more with 36, and Harbhajan Singh added 28 as India were bowled out for 125, with Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie each taking three wickets. Australia cruised to a nine-wicket victory.

But things improved when India defeated Zimbabwe and Namibia before defeating England on the strength of Ashish Nehra's amazing 6/23.

Nehra Classic

At Durban, India batted first and Tendulkar produced another half-century (50), while Rahul Dravid top-scored with 62. Virender Sehwag, who was elevated to opener, scored some crucial runs, as did Dinesh Mongia and Yuvraj Singh, as India finished with a total of 250/9 after 50 overs.

Nehra then plunged into the English batting with a career-best wicket total, dismissing them for 168. Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain, Paul Collingwood, Alec Stewart, Craig White, and Ronnie Irani were among Nehra's victims. By far the most impressive World Cup performance by an Indian bowler.

Pakistan Lose Again

India-Pakistan World Cup encounters have traditionally been one-way traffic, and this time was no exception. On March 1, India triumphed once more in their match at Centurion. Saeed Anwar, who has long been a thorn in India's side, scored a century but received little help as Pakistan managed only 237/7 from 50 overs.

Tendulkar then smashed 98 off 73 balls, and Yuvraj (50 not out), Dravid (44 not out), and Sehwag (21) guaranteed an easy Indian victory and crucial points.

Sensations And Disasters

The tournament was a story about Kenya's sensational run to the semi-finals, as well as 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 up tied because everyone in the South African camp misread the D/L run requirement. The nation was taken aback when their team was swept away by the Durban downpour.

Other disasters in the league stage were England, Pakistan, and the West Indies.

India Advance

India faced Kenya in a semi-final in Cape Town, where skipper Sourav Ganguly finally got some runs with an unbeaten 107 as India comfortably took down the 225-run goal, but not before India was reduced to 3/24. After that, Dravid (32) and Yuvraj (58 not out) kept Ganguly company as India advanced to their second World Cup final.

In a rematch of the 1996 final, Australia was in terrifying form against Sri Lanka. Ricky Ponting hit 114 from 109 balls, while Adam Gilchrist was bowled out for 99. Damien Martyn contributed 52 points to Australia's 319/5 victory.

Sri Lanka were annihilated by Lee, Glann McGrath, and Brad Hogg, with only Aravinda de Silva (92) providing any opposition as they were defeated by 96 runs.

Final Agony For India

Australia, who had seen star spinner Shane Warne expelled from the competition on drug misuse allegations even before a ball was bowled, were back in the final, where they faced popular favourites India on March 23 at Johannesburg's Wanderers Stadium.

However, the Australians were far more professional in their approach, whilst India succumbed to the hype and pressure, resulting in a one-sided affair.

Ponting led the batting attack once more, this time with 140 runs off 121 deliveries, after Gilchrist (57) and Matthew Hayden (37) got things going. Martyn delivered 88 not out off 84 deliveries, with just Harbhajan Singh (2/49) providing any resistance.

India were never in the game, despite Sehwag's 82 points. Dravid (47), Ganguly (24), and Yuvraj (24 apiece) could not muster enough assistance, and India lost by 125 runs. Another final would have to wait another eight years for India. That, however, was a very other tale.