The partnership that sealed the World Cup: Damien Martyn (left) and Ricky Ponting © Getty Images
The partnership that sealed the World Cup: Damien Martyn (left) and Ricky Ponting © Getty Images

India’s excellent run in the World Cup came down crashing at New Wanderers, Johannesburg on March 23, 2003. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day when Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn smashed the Indian attack into pulp.

India were bowled out for 125 in their league match against Australia. They lost the final by 125 runs. The two performances led to people commenting that India had just about managed to avoid an innings defeat against Australia in World Cup 2003. It was said in jest, but it was not far from truth; such was Australia’s dominance over India in the tournament.

It was not that India played poor cricket in the tournament. In fact, they won 9 out of 11 matches in the tournament (losing only those two to Australia), most of which were easy strolls. Unfortunately, the chasm between Australia (who won all 11, and were challenged only by England, and to some extent, New Zealand) and India was so humongous that the final turned into a no-contest from ball one.

Zaheer loses nerve before Harbhajan strikes

Sourav Ganguly put Australia in, perhaps because India had lost batting first in the league match. On hindsight, it was an error akin to Mohammad Azharuddin’s in World Cup 1996 when he opted to bowl against Sri Lanka after a thrashing in the league encounter. World Cup 1992 had witnessed a certain Imran Khan opting to bat despite being bowled out for 74 batting first in the league stage against England: it had paid off.

Zaheer Khan’s first over perhaps summarised the match more than any other: he started with a no-ball, bowled another no-ball, sent down a wide that reached the fence, and was hit for four. The first over went for 15. Javagal Srinath did a better job at the other end, but once Adam Gilchrist got going, Australia reached 66 without loss after 8 overs. Gilchrist had contributed 43 of these, off a mere 30 balls.

Ganguly quickly switched to Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh, but the flow of runs continued. Gilchrist’s fifty took him 40 balls, and by the time he miscued a slog and holed out to Virender Sehwag off Harbhajan he had raced to 57 off 48 balls, and the Australian score read 105 for 1 after 14 overs. Harbhajan removed Hayden too, caught-behind, and with Australia two down for 125 after 20 overs, India had perhaps sniffed a chance on the flat track at New Wanderers.

Ponting and Martyn butcher India

India held things back for a while, but could not break through. Both Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn dealt in singles, waiting for the occasional loose ball to come their way. Sensing danger, Ganguly kept switching his bowlers, trying out Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Mongia, and Yuvraj Singh, but to no avail. Ponting and Martyn took the score to 192 for 2 in 32 overs; 320 certainly looked possible.

Martyn took the charge first, beating Ponting to the fifty, reaching there in 46 balls. It took Ponting 74 balls before he opened up, launching Harbhajan for consecutive sixes over mid-wicket, rushing past Martyn. He took Nehra and Mongia for two more sixes, and suddenly things began to look very ominous for the hapless Indians.

Ponting brought up his hundred in 102 balls with a flick off Srinath in the 46th over and hit at least one six in every over after that. He went after Srinath with a vengeance, adding two fours to his customary six, and finished on 140 from 121 balls — then the highest score in a World Cup final (it was bettered by Gilchrist four years later). It was revealed later that Martyn had played with a finger injury; his 88 not out came off 84 balls, and the pair added 234 in 180 balls.

Australia finished with 359 for 2. Though Nehra (10-0-57-0) and a surprisingly under-bowled Harbhajan (8-0-49-2) had decent figures, Zaheer (7-0-67-0) and Srinath (10-0-87-0) had abysmal figures to show. The support staff did not do too badly, conceding 85 from 15 overs. The runs conceded by Srinath were the most by an Indian at that time, and only Vinay Kumar (9-0-102-1) and Zaheer (10-0-88-0) have conceded more.

Tendulkar falls, as does rain

Tendulkar was in supreme form throughout the tournament (he ended up the highest scorer and Man of the Series by the proverbial mile). Uncharacteristically he took first strike, and went after Glenn McGrath from the beginning. He went for a pull — perhaps predetermined — the fourth ball, but the slightly mistimed pull reached the fielder. He tried another pull the next ball; it went up in the air — vertically — and McGrath ran to take the most precious wicket.

India did not go for the option of keeping wickets for the end; they decided to go down, all guns firing. Ganguly hit four and six off the first two balls of McGrath’s next over, and Sehwag hit another six off the last ball. The pair added 54 in 54 balls before Ganguly mistimed a jab off Brett Lee and was caught. Mohammad Kaif fell for a blob next over, and at 59 for 3, it seemed all over for India.

But Australia still had Rahul Dravid — and rain — to contend with. As it started drizzling Ponting brought Brad Hogg and Darren Lehmann on to rush through the 25-over mark; Sehwag greeted these bowling changes gleefully, smashing three consecutive boundaries off Lehmann.

It did not help Ponting. The rain became incessant, and play had to be stopped at 3.35 PM. The score read 103 for three after 17 overs, which meant that if there was no play, the match would be called abandoned and play would resume afresh next day. At this stage India required 257 from 198 balls.

Lehmann finishes it again

Unfortunately for the Indians, play resumed after a mere 25 minutes, and no over was deducted. Sehwag resumed on a 55-ball 56, and continued with the onslaught before he hit one to Lehmann at mid-off and ran. The direct throw found him short, and as he fell for an 81-ball 82, the steam ran out of the Indian chase. They needed 213 from 157 balls, and the target was moving further away from them.

Dravid scored 47 before he chopped one on to the stumps off Andy Bichel; Yuvraj mistimed a violent hoick off Hogg and was caught; Mongia was caught brilliantly by a running Martyn straight down off Andrew Symonds; Harbhajan’s slog did not cross the inner circle; and Harbhajan and Srinath fell in quick succession.

McGrath eventually wrapped up things when Zaheer’s slog did not cross the 30-yard circle. “Boof” Lehmann took the catch, thus sealing the World Cup; four years earlier he had done the same at Lord’s — albeit with the winning hit.

What followed?

– Srinath did not play international cricket again.

– In 2007 Australia became the first team to reach four consecutive World Cup finals and win the Cup four times.

– At SCG in 2003-04 Australia piled up 359 for 5 at SCG, winning by 208 runs. When they scored 359 for 5 again (for the second time five batsmen scored fifties for a side in an ODI), this time at Jaipur in 2013-14, Rohit Sharma (141 not out), Shikhar Dhawan (95), and Virat Kohli (100*) chased it down for the loss of one wicket with 39 balls to spare. The 359-jinx was finally broken.

Brief scores:

Australia 359 for 2 in 50 overs (Adam Gilchrist 57, Ricky Ponting 140*, Damien Martyn 88*) beat India 234 in 39.2 overs (Virender Sehwag 82, Rahul Dravid 47; Glenn McGrath 3 for 52) by 125 runs.

Man of the Match: Ricky Ponting.
Man of the Series: Sachin Tendulkar.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)