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SK Flashback: Ponting’s crowning glory in the 2003 World Cup

ANALYST
Feature
419   //    Timeless

The big day brings out the best in some and amplifies the tension in others. There is a difference between being focussed, and trying too hard. Some amount of pressure ensures optimum performance. To put oneself under too much pressure can cause a self-goal.

Exhilarating strokeplay by skipper Ricky Ponting in the World Cup 2003 final.
Exhilarating strokeplay by skipper Ricky Ponting in the World Cup 2003 final.

Not since the West Indies won nine successive World Cup matches had a team won so many in a row. Nor had a captain scored a century in a final since Clive Lloyd in the inaugural tournament in 1975. The Australians had an unbeaten run, winning all their eleven matches in 2003, with skipper Ricky Ponting crowning the feat with a contemptuous hundred. 

That is where the comparison ended. Australia surpassed the Caribbean giants by wresting their third world title. Lloyd had rescued his side from a precarious situation; Ricky Ponting walked in when the openers had already seized the initiative from an Indian team that seemed to be playing more with the heart than with the mind. It was a no-contest between a champion unit that turned out a clinical performance on the big occasion and a talented outfit that found the occasion too big. Twenty-eight years earlier it was a keen battle that went down to the last wicket. In 1975 it was the beginning of the rise of the West Indies to the pinnacle, as it was for Australia in 1987. In 2003, Australia reached the pinnacle or somewhere close to it.    

Once Sourav Ganguly won the toss in rain-swept Johannesburg and put Australia in on a wicket that was lively and seamed well into the innings, his opening bowlers should have concentrated on pitching the ball in a tight corridor. Instead, Zaheer Khan seemed to be trying to frighten the batsmen with pace, and stares that probably tickled the funny bone rather than sending a chill up their spines. The control that Javagal Srinath had acquired in later years deserted him. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden brought up the hundred before the 15th over was up. Ponting strode in at 105, Damien Martyn joined him at 125. From then on, the match went only one way.

It was Martyn who set the initial pace, dashing to his half-century off 46 deliveries. Ponting arrived after facing 74 balls. Then the captain began to accelerate, and in the last 15 overs seized full control. The Indians co-operated with him whole-heartedly, feeding him on the on-side. Ponting had to make only a couple of straight hits, hardly any on the off and made merry between long-on and long-leg. It was an awesome display of power-packed strokeplay that wrested the Cup even before India batted. Ponting raced to his 13th One-day hundred off 103 deliveries. He began dealing more in sixes than in fours, bludgeoning eight over the ropes, the most in a World Cup match hitherto, and only half the number along the turf. The last 15 overs produced 143 runs, the unbroken partnership tallied 234, and the total soared to 359, the highest by far in a World Cup final.

The jubilant captain returned with 140 in his kitty, also the top-score in a World Cup final, off just 121 deliveries. He had batted India out of the match, and even their most diehard supporters must have known that even a miracle, or a genius called Tendulkar, would not win them the day. The rain-gods teased, but perhaps only to infuse some excitement in a match that had gone flat the moment the last ball of the Australian innings had been bowled. Ponting had made sure that the ICC World Cup would be heading back Down Under.

Australia: 359 for 2 wickets (50 overs), India 234 all out (39.2 overs)

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